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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Family of man shot by police in Tooele County say mental illness had taken over

By Pat Reavy | Posted - Feb. 28, 2017 at 10:31 p.m.


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ARAGONITE, Tooele County — Police on Tuesday identified the man who was shot and killed by officers at a hazardous waste disposal facility over the weekend as Barry Michael Zumwalt, 36, of West Valley City.

But while Eliza Spears, Zumwalt's ex-wife, knows that Barry was the man physically at the Clean Harbors Incineration Facility early Sunday morning, mentally it was not him.

"I know with every fiber of my being that Barry did not even know where he was Sunday morning. He did not even know who he was. He had no idea what he was doing. And I know that. That is like a fact. Anybody who has studied this illness knows that. He was very delusional. And the man that drove into that facility that morning was not Barry. It was Barry’s body and a sickness that had taken over his mind,” she said.

"He was just out of his mind, literally," his father, Don Zumwalt added.

Barry Zumwalt was shot about 6:30 a.m. Sunday inside the fenced facility in Aragonite, about 60 miles east of Wendover, by two law enforcement officers after they say he threatened to blow up the facility and "presented a gun" at the officers.

On Monday, the Utah County Sheriff's Office, the agency conducting an independent review of the officer-involved shooting, said Zumwalt had a history of mental illness. He did not have any significant criminal history in Utah, according to court records.

Zumwalt's family confirmed Tuesday that Barry was diagnosed in 2005 as having Type 2 bipolar disorder with psychotic tendencies. Since that time, they say Zumwalt had suffered three manic episodes. In between, Zumwalt, a U.S. Navy veteran, worked as a truck driver. He was high functioning and little to no signs of being mentally ill. He was a great father, according to his ex-wife who remained friends with Zumwalt.

According to his Facebook page, Zumwalt was originally from Elko, Nevada, and attended Elko High School. His page states he used to be employed as an aviation storekeeper with the U.S. Navy. His Facebook page is filled with posts about motorcycles, playing pool, veterans and pictures of his son.

But his latest manic episode started on Feb. 16, Don Zumwalt, said.

"Something happened in his mind and he was really, really sick,” he said.

Even his young son could tell something was off, Spears said.

Barry Zumwalt was between medications, something his family believes contributed to his condition. He checked himself into the VA Hospital on Feb. 22, and checked out the next day believing his was OK, his family said.

"He didn’t believe he was ill. And that’s part for the illness,” Spears said.

Don Zumwalt dropped his son off at his apartment about 8 p.m. Saturday before starting his drive back to Nevada. At that time, he knew his son wasn't completely well, but he said things had been better the past couple of days.

What happened between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday that prompted Barry to drive to the west desert may never be known.

By that point, Spears said her ex-husband had been awake for 11 straight days, which likely contributed to his delusions and his irrational thinking. His family believes Zumwalt didn't even know the Clean Harbors facility existed and he likely just stumbled upon it. They are convinced that he did not have any premediated plan to harm someone.

"I’m convinced he just met no ill-will toward anyone. But because of his bipolar, he just wasn’t thinking clearly,” Don Zumwalt said.

But family members concede that when Barry had one of his manic episodes, he could be a scary person. His father doesn't doubt that threats were made.

The family also believes, based on what they were told by police, that Barry Zumwalt may have been under the delusion that Spears and his son "were in the building and they were in danger and they needed to save them,” Spears said.

Don Zumwalt said he doesn't blame the officers who shot his son for what happened.

"Law enforcement was put in a bad situation and they had to act. They don’t have an opportunity to stop the world and ask, ‘Excuse me sir, are you sick?’” he said.

Now, Barry's family wants the public to know that he was not a bad person. And they hope by talking openly about his illness that it will encourage others who know friends or family members with a mental illness to get them the help they need.

"It would be very easy for people watching the news, not knowing anything about the family, to take that information (about the shooting) and say, ‘This is just a horrible person (who) did a horrible thing.’ But Barry wasn’t horrible. Barry was a fine young man," his father said. "People need to understand Barry was sick. He didn’t have any idea what he was doing.

"This was not just a random bad guy who wanted to do something bad. He was a sick individual who, really, I think needed additional help or more mental health assistance,” Don Zumwalt continued. "He just hated it. He hated this disease. And he wanted to be stronger than this disease."

Zumwalt encouraged families who have mentally ill members to be diligent about medication and medical care, get a proper diagnosis, and do research about the illness their loved one has.

"I just want people to know that Barry was truly a phenomenal person, And while he might be my ex-husband, he was one of my dearest friends and father of my son,” Spears said. "He was a man of honor. He truly was."

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Pat Reavy

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