Family Members say Michigan Amtrak Stabbing Suspect Has a Long History of Mental Problems

A Michigan man charged in connection with the stabling of four people aboard an Amtrak train Friday night told police that he was fighting a “demon.”

Michael Williams, 44, of Saginaw, Mich., pleaded not guilty during an arraignment hearing on Monday to four counts of attempted murder. He requested a court-appointed attorney.

He continues to be held on $1 million bond in the Berrien County Jail in Niles, Mich., where the assault occurred aboard the eastbound Blue Water en route from Chicago to Port Huron, Mich., with 172 aboard.

Williams will be back in court on Friday.

The revelation of what Williams told Niles police following the attack was made public on Monday in court documents.

“Michael Williams said he did not remember exactly what he did but that he did have a knife in his hand,” according to an affidavit for his arrest.

Williams told police that the “guy he was talking to on the train turned into a demon and he had to fight” him, according to court documents.

Court records show that Williams stabbed and cut the train’s conductor, Dontrol Bankhead, 40, twice in the head, twice in the neck and several times on his body, police said.

He stabbed Bonnie Cleasby, 59, in the abdomen, Dan Stewart, 59, once in the chest, and Gayle VanHorst, 47, in the chest, according to the report.

All of the victims were hospitalized but reported to be in stable condition.

A Niles police officer who responded to the attack said he was forced back out of a passenger car by the fleeing passengers.

He then saw the suspect running at him with a “large hunting knife” with a 5-inch blade.

The officer pulled out his Taser and struck Williams in the chest, “incapacitating” him and causing him to drop the knife as he fell to the floor.

Members of Williams’ family told reporters that he had a history of mental problems.

A sister, Tracy Williams, told the Saginaw News that when she spoke with her brother last week he seemed to be hallucinating and feared for his life as he tried to get to Saginaw.

“We were having conversations back and forth, and I said, ‘You know, Mike, this doesn’t make any sense. Why are they after you?’ ” Tracy Williams said.

“Whatever he believed in his head was real to him. Nothing I could have said could make him think any different.”

Family members said Williams is military veteran who moved to Atlanta last summer to get a commercial driver’s license and work as a cross-country trucker.

“My heart goes out to the victims because they were innocent,” Tracy Williams said. “He wasn’t specifically targeting them. They did absolutely nothing to deserve this.”

Williams’ history of mental health problems dates back at least nine years, when he was petitioned for treatment after arming himself with a hammer and knives in his own home, according to court documents..

Family members said that Williams began suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the U.S. Army during Operation Desert Storm.

Saginaw County Probate Court records show that Williams suffered from paranoid delusions due to cocaine abuse and acute psychosis due to drug use when his family filed a petition to have him involuntarily committed in November 2005.

A judge didn’t rule on the petition because he voluntarily went in for treatment, records show.

According to the petition filled out by an aunt, Williams told his family “people are following him, people are under (the) house and jumping out windows and no one else can see them.”

His mother and sister said he was carrying a hammer and knives in a “threatening posture” in the house, “throwing objects” and digging, apparently in the crawl space, to find people.

Family members summoned Saginaw police eight times in three days in November 2005. Police threatened to use a Taser to get him out from under the house, records show.

A cousin, Lawhawn Scroggins, who lives in Utah, told a Grand Rapids TV station that Williams called her on Tuesday — three days before the Amtrak stabbing — to say that people were following him and trying to kill him.

He told her he was leaving Kentucky and was headed home to Saginaw to escape the people. He was working as a truck driver, she said.

“I don’t think it’s something he did intentionally,” Scroggins said. “I think maybe something triggered him, maybe he was already like paranoid about something before. I don’t know what happened, what triggered him or what was going on.”

An uncle told the TV station that Williams has suffered from mental illness since leaving the military and that it worsened after the deaths of his mother and father.

He said he doesn’t believe Williams meant to hurt anybody. “He’s not that type of person,” he said.

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