Care failures behind killings

Two killings this week once again raised questions about Sweden's approach to psychiatric care. On Saturday, a 22-year old man took his 15-year old ex-girlfriend, Marcella Ahlberg, hostage and then stabbed her to death while police waited outside, while early on Monday morning a 17-year old girl killed her mother in their home.

Both incidents echo a spate of attacks last summer, which left seven people dead. Then, the perpetrators were all said to have been denied the proper psychiatric care in the preceding weeks and months.

In Saturday’s incident, Malmö police arrived at the flat – which was owned by Marcella’s mother – around midday following reports of a disturbance inside. According to DN, they could see through the windows that the man was walking around with a knife in his hand and holding the girl close to him. He threatened to kill her if the police tried to enter the apartment.

“At about quarter past three we heard her screaming for help, and we stormed the flat,” said Charlie Nilsson of Skåne Police. “The girl was lying on the floor. She was taken straight to hospital but she was so badly injured that she couldn’t be saved.”

The man was arrested immediately and police were left to defend their decision to play a waiting game.

“We followed the usual methods to try to deal with the situation as calmly as possible so that nobody would get hurt – we did what we considered to be correct at the time,” said Charlie Nilsson to DN.

Expressen revealed that Marcella Ahlberg and the murderer had been together since 2002. Within weeks he was beating her, according to her friends. They had broken up twice before and on the last occasion, after standing outside her flat shouting for two hours, he stabbed a passer-by who asked him to calm down. Two weeks ago he threatened to kill her.

The paper also detailed the young man’s troubled upbringing following the separation of his parents: “One weekend in 1985 the father took the children and disappeared. He took them [to Pakistan], his former homeland.”

The mother tried to find them but it wasn’t until Christmas 1999 that she saw them again: “The children were brought home at the Swedish state’s expense. None of them spoke any Swedish. Six months later the father turned up again.”

The father then spent two years in prison for kidnapping his children and the 22-year old’s mother firmly blames him for their son’s problems.

“What do you expect if a child is brought up with a baseball bat and a belt?” she said.

Following Monday’s death, the accusations of neglect were aimed squarely at the social services. After the girl was taken into custody – having called the emergency services and told them “I’ve killed my mother” – it became clear that this was a death that could have been prevented.

“The girl had been denied psychiatric care – despite the fact that she had been asking for help for many years,” said Aftonbladet.

The girl’s uncle told the paper: “She did everything she could to be taken in. She was fully aware of her problems but she was always denied the help she needed.”

Apparently the girl’s problems had become worse in the last two years, so last summer her mother sold their house in Stockholm and they moved to the countryside outside Norrköping so she could devote more time to caring for her daughter.

But the mother still felt that she wouldn’t be able to prevent the girl from committing suicide and on several occasions they sought emergency psychiatric help.

“I don’t want my sister’s life to have been taken in vain,” said the girl’s uncle to Aftonbladet. “I hope that my niece and everyone else who needs psychiatric help will now get it.”