In the summer he went to work on a farm in Virginia run by some Oberlin classmates of his father, Sam. The friends called Sam, concerned by some of David's behaviors, and David himself wrote to his father that he was hearing voices -- the plants were telling him not to chop or hoe them. David abruptly returned to Nevada and hospitalized himself in Reno. His mother was stunned to see that he had lost 40 pounds.

Sam recalls, "It was during that period that I became conscious that it was more than a teenager struggling. There was something more wrong with him. They didn't diagnose him at that point as having mental illness per se. They gave him some kind of tranquilizers but they weren't really clear what was going on. He bounced back from that fairly quickly. But then he just couldn't keep it together."

Susan says, "At that point the diagnosis from the Reno psychiatrist was, 'I don't know what's going on. It could be any number of things.'"

David eventually, reluctantly, went back to Evergreen in February 1987 with Sam driving him up to the campus. In April, one of his college housemates called Susan saying David had disappeared one rainy night with just the clothes on his back. There was no word from him for two weeks. From a flophouse in Portland he called his sister Katie, who was then married and living in Los Angeles. He said he had been living on the street, eating out of Dumpsters. He somehow ended up at the Sacramento Airport, where Katie's then-husband Randy Thomas came and retrieved him.

While staying with Katie he would barely eat; he told her he felt "unworthy" of bathing and wouldn't use soap in the shower. One time when she took him to the movies he tried to give his shoes to a homeless man they passed in the street.

The brain itself is malfunctioning

Soon David went to live near Los Angeles with his father who with his wife at the time, Ellen, took on the responsibility of trying to find appropriate treatment. Finally, in July 1987, a psychiatrist told the family that David had been dealing with schizophrenia.

The doctor prescribed an anti-psychotic medication called Haldol and another drug that curbed Haldol's side effects. As Sam would later write to his family, "It wasn't a question of 'willpower' at all. It has nothing to do with neuroses and 'problems.' It's not even really a psychiatric issue. It is physical. The brain itself is malfunctioning."

The seemingly appropriate diagnosis and corresponding medication provided a glimmer of hope. David began taking 1 milligram of Haldol twice a day in 0.5-milligram pills. When it came time to renew the prescription, Sam called the Osco pharmacy, which took the renewal over the phone. The order was correctly entered into the computer, which in turn printed out the proper label. They picked up the medicine later.