Maddie Hofmann had struggled with mental health diagnoses including anxiety and depression, and taken and off medication for years, but by May 19 they were in a mental health crisis.
Maddie, 47, had made a steady stream of increasingly concerning tweets for three weeks. Then Maddie posted a photo of a gun. It was different.
An alarmed co-worker, who saw the gun station and received an email from Maddie that raised concerns they were considering suicide, called 911 and asked for a health check. The caller told authorities that Maddie was a transgender woman.
Malvern police arrived at Hofmann’s home in the 800 block of Charleston Greene shortly after 11 a.m. Police shot and killed Maddie, who had a gun, during a 57-second interaction. In the months since Maddie’s death, their wife Becky Hofmann has had to explain the loss to the couple’s 4 and 9-year-old sons and wonder how she can prevent a similar outcome from happening to someone else. another in the throes of a mental health crisis.
“They belonged in medicine, not on a shelf,” Becky Hofmann said, pointing to the box containing Maddie’s ashes. “They’re supposed to be here long enough to get better.”
According to the Chester County District Attorney’s Office, Maddie told police they were in a “crisis situation”. Maddie briefly put down the black Glock 19 9mm handgun they were holding, but picked it up and ran into the house when an officer approached. Maddie waved the gun at the officers inside with their trigger finger and there was a struggle. An officer shot Maddie three times.
READ MORE: Malvern Police were justified in fatally shooting woman wielding gun, says Chester County prosecutor
In June, the district attorney’s office said the officers were justified in shooting. In the months that followed, Becky Hofmann tried to figure out what had happened.
People in mental health crisis accounted for about a quarter of fatal police shootings in recent years, according to a Washington Post survey. Many of these individuals have come to the attention of police due to suicidal concerns or requests for wellness checks.
The question of whether the police are best equipped to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis has prompted departments in places like Detroit to adopt what is called a co-responder model where a medical professional mental is dating agents. Cities like Philadelphia are developing programs where separate units respond to calls involving people in mental health crisis.
Chester County, where Malvern is located, has mobile crisis assistance through the Valley Creek Crisis Center, where dispatching police on mental health calls is a last resort – but that is changing s there is a risk of violence. Yet accessing this targeted help requires people to call Valley Creek directly, according to the county’s Department of Emergency Services. A spokesperson for Valley Creek could not say if Maddie had ever caught their attention, citing privacy concerns.
» READ MORE: When mental health crises require more than a phone conversation, these mobile units come to the rescue
Malvern Mayor Zeyn Uzman – speaking on behalf of the Borough Council and the police – said it was unlikely the police could have done anything differently.
“It is at best speculative to consider that a mental health provider assisting law enforcement would have changed the outcome in these circumstances,” Uzman wrote, citing the presence of a gun.
Uzman said officers took a three-hour course last year that focused on recognizing and responding to people with special needs, including mental health issues. This year, officers had to take a three-hour course on implicit bias.
“Given the factual circumstances of the event and the incident only lasted 57 seconds, any additional training or change in policy would not have prevented this tragic event,” Uzman wrote.
“I understand that when a gun is involved, it’s complicated,” Becky said, though she couldn’t help but imagine a different outcome if officers hadn’t followed Maddie into the house. or fired only a shot.
Yet Becky has little time to think about May 19. Maddie’s death shook the family in more ways than one.
Maddie, who worked in technology, was the family’s main earner. Had Becky’s mother not loaned the family money, Becky said it was unclear how she would have paid for funeral or living expenses; the family also has a GoFundMe. It took contacting the office of U.S. Representative Madeleine Dean to receive a Social Security survivor benefit. Becky’s life insurance claim was only approved this week after months of back and forth with the borough and the insurer.
And with only police accounts to carry on – Becky was unable to read the incident report or access body camera footage – she struggles to explain what happened to his eldest son.
Charlie, 9, is old enough to remember Maddie revealing in 2019 that they were a transgender woman and young enough to have had an obsession with law enforcement – the kid dressed up as officer on previous Halloweens. Becky said the admiration was gone the day Maddie, who the kids still call dad, died.
“He wants to know if [police] didn’t do the right thing because they didn’t know what to do and maybe if someone told them they would know what to do next time,” Becky said. “But then he also asks, did they know what it takes but they just didn’t want to help his dad because his dad was different?”
Hanging in Becky’s Living Room is a painting Maddie did of herself and the kids. In the corner, there is a wave and an outstretched hand towards the trio. Becky said the wave is symbolic of Maddie mental health issues that ultimately forced the couple apart – Maddie lost custody of the children at one point. The hand is Maddie trying to overcome these difficulties and reach out to her family.
Art is just one way the family remembers Maddie, who loved to write, paint and play video and board games.
“They could talk about anything, spouting sports stats or, like, talking about physics or astronomy,” said Emily Flynn, Maddie’s sister. “Maddie was just someone I always wanted to be close and around.”
Maddie was a Korean adoptee. Flynn said knowing biological parents changed Maddie’s life. The children were one of the reasons Maddie was motivated to seek therapy, even though they were resistant to some medications.
For now, Flynn and Hofmann are trying to process the loss and tell Maddie’s story to make the case for change.
“It’s one of those things, you live in a bubble, you think those things can never happen to you, but [they] can,” Flynn said.
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