NORTHWEST MIAMI-DADE (CBS4) – A woman, armed with a handgun and making threats, opened fire on two Miami-Dade police officers early Friday, striking one of them, before she was fatally shot, according to police.
Gail Howard told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that her daughter, 32-year-old Catawaba Howard, had psychological issues.
She was an eight-year veteran of the Air Force and Army Reserves who recently left the military.
Experts said this tragedy calls attention to the fact that many veterans here and nationwide are in need of emotional and mental health treatment.
Catawaba, police said, was making threats to herself and others around 3:30 a.m. Someone called 911 and when police arrived at 1015 NW 109th Street, they were confronted by Catawaba who began to fire at the cops.
Officers William Vazquez and Saul Rodriguez returned fire and she was struck and killed on the scene.
Officer Vazquez, a 15-year veteran of the Miami-Dade PD, was struck once in the chest but his life was saved by his bullet proof vest. He was taken to Memorial West Hospital in stable condition.
Police told D’Oench he was released from the hospital. Vazquez had served two tours of duty in Iraq.
Howard’s mother said her daughter was ill.
“She was troubled in her own little roundabout way and she was seeking help,” said Gail Howard. “I know what was wrong. She was dealing with those issues.”
Thursday, Catawaba reportedly drove up to a stranger, Derek Nicholson, on a Liberty City street with a gun and asked him to kill her for $1,600.
“She wanted to get killed. She wanted me to kill her,” said Nicholson.
Instead, Nicholson told CBS4’s Kara Kostanich that he drove Catawaba to the crisis mental health center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, after she dropped off her gun and purse at her mother’s house.
“When I admitted her, I went back to her mom, and her mom said, ‘My daughter always do this, you know what I’m saying’ thought it was a joke,” he said.
It’s not clear how Howard was allowed to leave the mental health center in light of her seemingly desperate situation.
Gail Howard said her daughter left the hospital at her own will and within hours, her life was taken by police after she opened fire on officers.
“I just want to know what happened,” she said, “and that the truth be told.”
Howard also said she was proud of her daughter.
“She was a school teacher,” she said. “She had worked with Wackenhut security at Metrorail. She was in the Air Force and the Army reserve. She was very intelligent. She got a total of five scholarships. She has a lot of trophies. She was outstanding.”
Dr. Jonathan Sherin, a psychiatrist at the VA Health Care System, said the VA was investigating this incident as well, since Howard was a veteran. He told D’Oench that of 50,000 veterans who are patients of the VA in South Florida, as many as half of them have mental health issues.
“We have a crisis hotline that can help veterans that’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is 1-800-273-TALK,” Sherin said.
He said the VA has many programs and psychologists and psychiatrists and counselors who can veterans with a variety of programs with inpatient services, residential treatment, outpatient services.
“These are programs that provide continuous treatment and we can get veterans to the appropriate facilities,” said Sherin. “They can also check our website: veteranscrisisline.net. There is help.”