SEATTLE -- The world was captivated as news cameras sat fixed on a young man atop a massive sequoia tree in downtown Seattle.
There he sat for more than 24 hours, tossing branches and pine cones at police and passers-by from his 90-foot high perch above the city.
The mystery man quickly become a viral sensation – dubbed #ManInTree on Twitter.
As the Internet lost its collective mind, Lisa Gossett answered her phone in Wasilla, Alaska. A friend had called her from Oregon and told her she might want to pay attention to the bizarre events unfolding more than 2,000 miles away.
Sure enough, the “man in tree” was her son, 28-year-old Cody Lee Miller.
It was the first time in nearly five years that Gossett had laid eyes on her son and, even to her, he was almost unrecognizable.
“My daughter, she’s 15, we watched it and we just cried,” she said Monday. “Because that’s not the kid we knew.”
But Gossett knew this day would come. In reality, she had expected much worse.
“I pretty much plan for his death,” she said. “Because there’s no help anywhere.”
Cody grew up in Salem, where his mother said he was close to his family and “normal as hell.”
“He was a hard-working kid,” she said.
Diagnosed with ADHD at an early age, Cody “had his behavioral problems, but nothing to write home about.”
Around the age of 23, things began to change. Cody started hearing voices. He began sleeping with knives. Eventually, Gossett said, her son turned violent.
“He was walking down the road with shorts, long socks, and little clown-faced glasses and (he) scattered bones all over the road,” she recalled. “And this guy ran over them and got a flat tire.”
Gossett said her son punched through the man’s truck window when confronted.
At his worst, she said, Cody lit an outbuilding on fire on his grandmother’s property and threatened to kill her.
Gossett said her son suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She said family members have tried to get Cody help for years – pleading with police and others to institutionalize him before he hurt himself or others.
In Washington state, family members cannot have a loved one committed against their will.
If an individual is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, they can be held for a period of 72 hours. From there, petitions can be filed to have the person held for 14 days, 90 days, or an additional 180 days if evidence exists to prove they continue to pose a threat.
Gossett believes there were missed opportunities to get her son the help he needed before he wound up living out his illness on live TV.
She wants the public to know that her son is much more than a hashtag, but a reflection of our country’s failed mental health system.
“We’ve got to fix the problem,” she said. “Don’t put a Band-Aid on it.
“I’m sorry about that tree, but now every time somebody walks by that tree and they know the story, they can think of my son,” she said. “Look up there and think: that could be your son and that’s a mentally ill person that we need to help.”
Cody Miller was charged Monday with third-degree assault and first–degree malicious mischief for the tree incident. The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said it is too soon to say whether his mental health will factor into their prosecution of the case.
Gossett said she plans to visit Seattle to see her son in jail, where he’s being held on $50,000 bail.
“I don’t even know if he knows who we are, but I love him and I want him to get better. This is not a life for anybody to live."