Local family raises money to fight mental illness
A mistreated mental illness took the lives of Danielle Lambert's twin sister and two young children nearly a year ago. Pushing aside her anger and frustration, Lambert and her husband, Ken, have their used their grief as a driving force to prevent similar tragedies.
Keep Sound Minds, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the memories of Kaleigh and Shane Lambert and Marci Thibault, is aimed at promoting mental health awareness by pushing for better education and policy changes.
"We wanted to prevent this from happening again to another family," said Lambert, who suggested starting an organization a few weeks after her two children were killed. "I had to do something."
Family members say a sudden, unexpected psychotic relapse on the night of Jan. 11, 2008, caused Lambert's sister, Marci Thibault, to pull over to the side of Interstate 495 South in Lowell, undress herself, 5-year-old Kaleigh and 4-year-old Shane, take them in her arms and walk into oncoming traffic. The Lamberts' only children and Thibault were killed by two cars.
"We go through the scenarios and there were so many missed opportunities," Lambert said.
Thibault was treated for a brief episode of mental illness last September, but she said a lack of education, discussion and follow-up "led to tragedy."
Many in the community came out in support of a bowling benefit yesterday for Keep Sound Minds at PiNZ in Milford. Such support has been consistent since the January accident, said the Lamberts, who live in Brentwood, N.H. Lambert is one of eight Coady sisters, born and raised in Bellingham.
The Lamberts are gearing up for a larger fundraising event slated for March at the Sheraton Hotel in Boston. The benefit will launch a scholarship fund and will feature guest speakers, a raffle and silent auction.
Through Keep Sound Minds, the Lambert, Coady and Thibault families hope to raise awareness and increase education about mental disorders.
One target area focuses on changing law enforcement procedures and recognizing mental illness as a public safety issue.
The Lamberts still wonder why police didn't seem to respond appropriately to her behavior just hours before the double murder-suicide.
State police said 39-year-old Thibault had a minor accident and was cited on I-495 North in Andover on her way to pick up her niece and nephew. Another motorist told state police she appeared agitated, but she was rational and responsive when troopers arrived.
Lambert said she believes Marci showed police "clear signs of psychosis," but then snapped back to normal by the time she arrived in Brentwood.
"She seemed perfectly normal," she recalled.
The Lamberts later learned from a witness that Thibault said she was "taking (the children) to heaven."
"I knew it wasn't malicious," Lambert said. "I knew it was her illness that came back."
Choking back tears, she said she would have never let her sister take the children if she showed signs of instability.
"I didn't know much about mental disorders, neither did a lot of people in the family," said Ken Lambert, clutching his tearful wife's hand. "If we had known more, this could have been prevented."
Another goal of Keep Sound Minds is to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness, said Ken Lambert.
"People don't want to talk about it, but you need the knowledge," he said. "Education can protect people."
Changing procedures to discharge mental health patients can also prevent needless tragedy, the Lamberts said.
In Thibault's case, Danielle Lambert said doctors "belittled" her concerns about her sister.
"It was scary to me, but they told me, 'Don't worry,"' she recalled after doctors diagnosed Thibault with bipolar disorder and let her leave the hospital. "They took away my fear."
During the holiday season last year, the Thibaults and Lamberts celebrated Christmas together and felt Marci had improved.
"She loved kids .. she loved our kids," Danielle Lambert said. "And they were so excited to go with her."
The faces of the Lamberts' children still smile from an etching on a gold pendant hanging from Danielle Lambert's neck.
"They were beautiful kids, we miss them so much," she said. "We never thought we'd be in this place, but we're trying to do something positive."
Michelle Simpson, who volunteered at yesterday's bowling event, credits the Lamberts' initiative.
"I was inspired by how they turned a devastating tragedy into something positive," said Simpson, whose husband grew up in the Coadys' Bellingham neighborhood. "They want to make a change and prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future."
For more information, visit www.keepsoundminds.org.