Church standoff suspect undergoing mental evaluation

Rumors flew wild as Father’s Day church standoff began in Linden

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

The initial reports our publisher Dan McDermott got from D.C.-based media outlets was that the FBI was closing in on Warren County’s most famous or infamous couples, so-called “White House gatecrashers” Tareq and Michaele Salahi in their Mosby Estates subdivision; then that a AK-47 wielding man had holed up in a nearby church after terrorizing Linden area subdivisions.

My first thought was that on the eve of his wife’s TV stardom (Bravo Network-Real Housewives of DC) had Tareq gone mad from fame jealousy and run amuck?!!?

But no – at least not yet – as McDermott posted on our website the afternoon of Sunday, June 20th, neither rumor was true, though the second was closer having at least one element of truth to it – a man holed up in a church.

Through the cracks

That man was 39-year-old Travis Jay Sutherly of 1171 Sugar Hill Roads, Maurertown, who locked himself in the Grace Bible Fellowship Church of local minister-builder Larry Andrews in the early morning hours of Father’s Day.

After nearly 11 hours of communication with the suspect, mostly by phone by the WCSO’s Crisis Negotiation Team; and visual observation and direct communications facilitated by an armed personnel vehicle supplied by federal authorities from nearby Mt. Weather in Clarke County, Sutherly gave himself up after partially undressing.

According to Sutherly’s mother, Dianne Orndorff of Maurertown, her son left painted messages on the wall of the church as he had three weeks earlier when he had barricaded himself in his own home. Those messages were religious in nature and referenced the Book of Revelation and the story of the Seven Seals, she said.

“He believes in God. But while he’s in this depression he thought God put him on this mission and he had everything turned around in his mind because of his problem – he interpreted things wrong,” Orndorff told us. That problem she said several psychiatric evaluations have recently indicated is manic-depression or bipolar disorder.

Orndorff said her son was first hospitalized for behavioral problems in Winchester about a year after his father Mark Sutherly’s 2001 death in a motorcycle accident. But she said until recently he appeared to be doing well in the wake of that initial treatment.

Following the June 20th church standoff, perhaps not coincidentally occurring on Father’s Day, Sutherly was initially charged with felony counts of destruction of church property, breaking and entering with the intent to commit a felony and violation of a protective order issued in Shenandoah County. From information acquired from Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron the protective order charge stemmed from Sutherly’s activities the evening prior to the church break-in. According to his mother Sutherly sought to see his 4-year-old daughter that weekend despite a protective order filed by his wife on June 2nd. That protective order was filed several days after Sutherly barricaded himself alone in his own Maurertown home.

“He needed a hug from his little girl and she let him have it,” Orndorff said of her understanding of her son’s pre-standoff trip to see his wife and child. Orndorff said her son and his wife were not officially separated but that her son’s increasingly erratic behavior had scared his wife, leading to the protective order of June 2nd.

According to Orndorff, while her son was in the Shenandoah County lockup immediately after that May 30th incident at his home, he was exhibiting signs of a mental disorder she and Travis have been unsuccessfully seeking timely treatment for since. On May 30th she had filed a temporary detention order to allow her son to be picked up by authorities for his own safety, she said. But Orndorff said her son ended up spending two weeks in jail, from May 30 to June 15, after kicking a Shenandoah County Rescue Squad officer while being transported to the emergency room from jail.

Orndorff said after being taken into custody on May 30th, her son had been so agitated that he fell while kicking at the lockup cell bars and cracked his head open, requiring stitches. But after kicking a responding rescue squad officer on the way to the emergency room, Sutherly was booked for assault of an officer in the performance of his duties. That ensuing two weeks were time her son was not getting the kind of mental help he needed, she believes. However at the outset of his jail stay, Orndorff said Travis was interviewed by staff from Northwestern Community Services and diagnosed with bipolar disorder or manic-depression. However a second diagnosis from a different NW staffer contradicted the initial one, she said. – “I guess he had clamed down and was talking normal that day,” she said.

Sutherly was eventually released on a $5,000 secured bond to Orndorff and her husband John on the condition they get Sutherly a psychiatric evaluation that day, June 15. Orndorff said her son’s bipolar diagnosis was confirmed by staff at Winchester Medical Center and it was suggested Sutherly get an appointment with a psychiatrist. Given the names of three area psychiatrists, the family could not get an appointment before Aug. 20, she said. Orndorff said she got unsatisfactory responses from NW Community Services and Valley Health when she attempted to secure earlier appointments.

“He was, I was crying out for help and we couldn’t get anybody,” Orndorff said of attempts to get Sutherly immediate attention for his deteriorating mental state.

After visiting a doctor in Woodstock on June 17th to get blood pressure medication, Travis told his mother he “spilled everything to the doctor.” That doctor told Sutherly that he appeared to be bipolar and that he should see a psychiatrist as soon as possible. Orndorff said she called Valley Health officials in Woodstock and pleaded for an appointment prior to Aug. 20.

However with none forthcoming, Travis’s Aunt Wanda secured an appointment with a psychiatrist she knew in Harrisonburg. While that doctor could not see Travis Sutherly that day, Friday, June 18, an appointment was scheduled for the following Monday, June 21st.

“Travis was so excited to get that appointment. His Aunt Wanda was going to take him down there and spend the day with him,” Dianne Orndorff says.
But that appointment came one day too late to head off Travis Sutherly’s confrontation with authorities in Warren County and his pending legal problems here.

Help the hard way

On June 30, WC Sheriff McEathron said Sutherly was being held without bond and was at Western State for a mental evaluation. Sutherly’s mother said after the failed attempts to get immediate treatment for her son, she is just grateful the June 20th incident ended without her son being harmed. Orndorff said she speaks to her son daily and that he appears to be reacting well to the treatment he is receiving at Western State.

“Each day his thinking is getting clearer. He told me, ‘Mom, I’m getting better.’ ” Orndorff said of a recent conversation with Travis after he was sent to Western State. She said he likes the doctor who is treating him but that his memory of the church standoff is spotty.

Orndorff also said her son is fearful of having to go to prison for the events of June 20th.

“He told me, ‘Mom, I don’t know if I can make it in prison.’ He sent me a letter to his daughter to only open if something happens to him in there. I put it away – I won’t look at it,” Orndorff said.

As with the May 30th incident at his home, Sutherly reached out to his mother after barricading himself in the Grace Fellowship Church on June 20th. McEathron said his department was alerted to the break-in of the Linden area church by phone at 5:40 a.m. Father’s Day morning. Orndorff confirmed that call came from her. Approximately 11 hours later, after ongoing negotiations by telephone and eventual direct observation of and communication with the suspect within the barricaded church, Sutherly was arrested “without incident” according to a WCSO press release issued the day of the incident.

However that “without incident” arrest may further indicate the troubled situation of Travis Sutherly that day. McEathron said Sutherly “partially disrobed” as he gave himself up. We asked the sheriff if his officers had asked Sutherly to disrobe in order to assure he was not armed.

“No,” the sheriff said, the suspect was not asked to disrobe.

Dianne Orndorff said one physical symptom her son has exhibited since taking a mental turn for the worse in recent months has been feeling like he was “burning up.” He has also had trouble sleeping she said. In fact, the day prior to the church standoff Orndorff said her son had set off on foot to go to the river near his home to fish and try to cool down.

“I think he had every intention of going fishing when he left here,” she said.

Suicide & revelations?

Sheriff McEathron also confirmed some additional details of the incident with us. He said the department had initially been informed Sutherly might be armed.

“That was enough for us,” the sheriff said in explaining why law enforcement responders had not made themselves visible to the suspect inside the church as they negotiated by phone with him throughout the day.

“He was challenging us to come in and get him,” McEathron said. “He said he didn’t believe we were there because he couldn’t see us.”

Sheriff McEathron said that Sutherly had barricaded himself inside the church by piling furniture and other objects up against the doors. The suspect then painted over the inside of the church windows above where his barricade stopped.

Sutherly’s mother said she is fearful her son may have intended that police come in and end his misery that day in the church. “He believes in God, so he wouldn’t do it himself. But he was in pain. Deep down I think that’s why he let them believe he was armed,” she said.

Orndorff said her son has relatives in local law enforcement, including Strasburg Police Chief Tim Sutherly, a cousin – their fathers were brothers, she said. Orndorff said she was grateful that Strasburg PD Chief Sutherly kept her abreast of the church standoff situation as it progressed and notified her that Travis had been safely taken into custody without being harmed.

We asked Warren County Sheriff McEathron whether his department’s investigators had any inkling why Sutherly chose that location to hole up, did he have a connection to the Grace Fellowship Church, we asked. McEathron said Sutherly was not a church member and did not appear to have direct connection of any kind to the church.

“He was driving around and saw a steeple and apparently decided that’s where he would go,” McEathron said.

Roger Bianchini:

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