At 18 years, Joshua Steel turned from the smiling and easygoing teenager his family knew to an unresponsive and sometimes out-of-control son who could not be reached.
During Steel’s trial Wednesday, evidence was presented showing the abrupt, severe and tragic onset of schizophrenia.
Steel’s first psychotic episode happened when he was nearing 18 years, after an all-nighter playing video games, smoking pot and taking ecstasy. He told his parents a bizarre story about the devil, Zeus and threats coming from inside his computer.
There were no obvious symptoms prior to that day.
Dr. Sam Iskander, a forensic psychiatrist, testified that the late-teen years is the typical onset of schizophrenia in men.
Use of recreational drugs, including marijuana will hasten the symptoms as well as create more severe, frequent and longer episodes.
But for several months prior to killing his father, on Sept 12 last year, Steel didn’t take any illicit drugs. Nor did he take anti-psychotic medications prescribed for him by doctors here. A physician in the Philippines, where he visited that spring with his mother, said they weren’t necessary.
He also started exercising while on vacation and generally seemed to be improving, according to his family.
He drank occasionally but not on the day he killed Phil Steel.
Evidence presented during a preliminary hearing was entered Wednesday detailing some of Steel’s symptoms, which included hearing voices and commands from the TV.
He saw doctors and mental health workers on and off for months. On May 27, while he was still off medication, a child psychologist in Kamloops warned in his file that Steel was at risk for another psychotic episode if he drank, took illicit drugs or was stressed out.
He became more unresponsive in the weeks leading up to Sept. 12. His mother said Joshua would typically bound out of bed to help her work in her janitorial business. But he would take far longer to move.
At times, he would take up to two minutes to respond to questions, something Iskander said was a sign of clashing voices in his head.
On Sept. 10, two days before the killing, he had a psychotic episode where he broke windows of cars in the neighbourhood after a fight with his parents. He was arrested and taken to RCMP cells, but not to hospital.
While his mother wanted Josh in the hospital, saying he was at risk of hurting himself or others, a mental health worker who interviewed him after the window-breaking spree said there was “nothing to indicate he needed to be certified (committed to hospital under the Mental Health Act),” said Steel’s lawyer, Jordan Watt.
Earlier in the day on Sept. 12, Steel was at his aunt’s, where family and an outside pastor tried talking with him, while he stared blankly out the window.
The pastor tried to chat him up for 45 minutes, talking about subjects as varied as the Vancouver Canucks and difficulty of being a teenager.
But family members and the pastor all told the court in the earlier hearing that Steel didn’t budge, instead staring out the window for four hours. His family unsuccessfully tried to get him to go to Royal Inland Hospital.
Steel later told Iskander he was communicating with the devil in his head at the time.
He then left on foot for his home, with the intent of killing his dad.
Family phoned to warn Phil Steel, 63, that Joshua was coming home.
Phil told them over the phone he could see Joshua coming down the street. Within minutes Phil made two panicked calls to 911, as Joshua used a fireplace tool to smash him on the head.
Phil Steel died shortly after paramedics arrived at the Collingwood Drive home.
Joshua ran from the house but was quickly caught by police. RCMP members described him as having a “1,000-yard stare” and a “focused glaze” in the police cruiser after he was arrested.
The only thing he said was “’I’m ready to go to the insane asylum,’” Watt told the court.