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posted: 8/17/2011 5:00 AM

Why attacker of Elgin High teacher must get help

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

Angel Facio was 16 when he brutally attacked his Elgin High School teacher without provocation three years ago. Without warning, he stabbed Carolyn Gilbert repeatedly in the head and neck. She lost an eye as a result but was lucky she didn't lose her life. She was saved only because another teacher intervened to pull Facio off her.

Two years ago, the Daily Herald's Kerry Lester produced a powerful three-part narrative on Gilbert's perspective of the horrific attack and her courageous recovery from it. In today's Daily Herald, Lester concludes a companion to that original series. "Impulse" is a gripping three-part follow-up report built around a lengthy prison interview with Facio, now 19.

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It is an intimate look inside the crime from the point of view of the unassuming teenager who committed it. And yet, in his disturbing account, Facio describes the sudden assault but offers no real motive. Why did he strike out? Why Gilbert? Why that day? Facio says he doesn't really know. Gilbert hadn't done anything to him. In fact, he says, he liked her.

Three years later, the crime appears to remain as inexplicable to Facio as it is to us.

Here's a haunting central question that has no simple answer: Facio was a deeply troubled 16-year-old when he attacked Gilbert. At 29, when he gets out of prison in 10 years, how different a person will he be?

It's a question that applies not just to Facio but to all the violent criminals behind bars in Illinois. And lest anyone think this is a matter of fuzzy-headed softheartedness, the implications of the answer go beyond Facio's welfare; they relate directly to the public's welfare. If Facio doesn't even understand why he raised his weapon at Gilbert, how safe can anyone be once he gets out?

To some degree, perhaps, we can find reassurance in an explanation for sudden teenage violence provided by Tim Brown, chief psychiatrist at the Kane County Diagnostic Center. Adolescents, Brown said, "don't think long term."

At 29, Facio presumably will have grown, we can hope, matured enough to act on reason rather than emotion.

And yet, what is helping him mature?

He sits today in isolation inside an adult prison, a place where punishment is the purpose, not rehabilitation. While privacy rules make it hard to be certain, every indication suggests he is receiving only cursory mental health treatment.

Make no mistake about it, Facio earned his punishment. The attack on Gilbert was not his only violent crime.

But Lester's Facio report makes one ultimate truth painfully clear: For our society, and for all its self interests, that punishment will have accomplished nothing if it is not accompanied by aggressive and effective mental health treatment.

One day, after all, Angel Facio will be on the street again. And we'll all be on it with him.

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