Mother of Student Shot by UCPD Says Family Has History of Bipolar Disorder, Questions Shooting

The mother of the student shot by a UCPD officer, Kathleen Thomas, said she believes her son was having a psychiatric episode at the time, although to her knowledge he has no history of mental health issues.



Fourth-year Charles Thomas is seen holding the metal bar and wearing a mask in UCPD-released video.

By Pete Grieve, Editor-in-Chief ('18–'19)

The mother of the student who was shot by an officer of the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD), Kathleen Thomas, said she believes her son was having a psychiatric episode at the time, although to her knowledge he has no history of mental health issues.

Kathleen Thomas said she has never seen anything like the behavior her son Charles Thomas, a fourth-year in the College, displayed Tuesday night, but there is a history of bipolar disorder in their family.

“That was not the Charles I know. All through him growing up and his teenage years, I’ve only seen him get slightly angry a couple times,” she said. “He never had to go to the principal’s office ever, never had any run-ins with the law.”

She had not previously seen any signs of bipolar disorder from Thomas; she said that she has been paying close attention because it can start manifesting around this age.

Now she’s wondering if it may explain his behavior Tuesday night.

She suspects that stress because of B.A. thesis deadlines may have been a factor contributing to his mental health episode.

“He’s always put a lot of pressure on himself to be successful.”

She said Thomas has been working hard to finish a thesis for his major, and he probably has not been sleeping much.

But something must have made him snap, she said.

“To me it was obvious he was having some sort of psychiatric episode, a manic episode,” she said. “And he’s never had anything like that before. He’s never been in trouble. The voice he was using, the way he was acting, his demeanor, it’s nothing I’ve seen from him, ever.”

Charles Thomas rowed on the crew team at UChicago.
Charles Thomas rowed on the crew team at UChicago. (Stuart McDonald)

Kathleen Thomas spoke to The Maroon by phone from Northwestern Hospital, where her son is receiving treatment in the intensive care unit. She’s glad that he’s getting some psychiatric help at the hospital, though she’s frustrated that she’s only been able to see her son once so far.

She said that UCPD officers have been at the hospital.

A spokesperson for the University clarified that UCPD has been limiting access because Charles Thomas is in police custody. UCPD had been restricting access completely till yesterday afternoon as to not interfere with CPD’s investigation, but UCPD did not deny her access Thursday.

The University showed her the bodycam footage before it was released publicly, the spokesperson said.

Kathleen Thomas said she wishes she had known that her son was going through something so she could have tried to help him. The last time she had talked to her son on the phone was Sunday, March 25. She said he seemed fine, just very busy with the paper, but he was uncommunicative with her after that.


He is expected to get out of the ICU today. Kathleen Thomas is aware that police have charged her son with multiple felonies and their family has a lawyer, but she said her main concern now is that he gets the care he needs.

“I’m grateful that he wasn’t killed,” she said. “I realize it was a very tense situation. I do sort of wonder: Were there alternative methods that could have been used other than using bullets to handle the situation? I’m not sure exactly what the policy is, or what the training is, but in the video they used the word ‘mental’; so they realized that he was having a mental health episode. If they realized that, was there a different way to handle it so he didn’t get shot?”

She said she’s thankful that the bullet struck him in the shoulder rather than in the heart.

“My main concern is getting Charles well,” she said. “I’d really like to work with the University to help fix the damage. We realize Charles did property damage and we’re totally going to cover any sort of monetary damage that anybody suffered. We’d like to get that fixed as soon as possible.”