Dr. Steve Pitt was brilliant. He was a forensic psychiatrist with an ability to see inside the criminal mind, and he regularly used his talents to help law enforcement across the country. He was also funny, thoughtful, and a great guy.
And he was my friend. We met when I interviewed him for a Dateline story two years ago. I could tell we were going to become better friends as time went by.
Except now Steve is dead, murdered outside his office in Phoenix. He was only 59, engaged to be married to Natalie, a wonderful woman who adored him and the life they shared. His death is a brutal loss for a lot of people, and I'm nowhere near the top of that list.
I've lost people I cared about before -- we all have. In my case, I've seen friends and family members taken by cancer, automobile accidents, and plane crashes. But I've never before said the words 'my friend was murdered,' and it still sounds strange coming out of my mouth.
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, I thought. If you cover murder as much as I do, maybe it was only a matter of time before that touched me in some personal way. It certainly has given me an insight into the internal struggle waged by the people we interview on Dateline, particularly when they tell me 'things like this are the kind of thing that happens not to me, but to someone else.' Well, this feels exactly like that.
Except of course, it didn't. I was heading to a wedding when my office gave me the news of Steve's murder and I nearly drove off the road. To say it's been on my mind since is an understatement. I'd seen Steve just a week before in LA. He was helping a friend with an art exhibit. He was laughing, having a great time. I wish we'd taken a selfie or something --but of course, I knew I'd see him and Natalie again, soon.
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One of the things I've been thinking about is that the man who shot and killed Steve was almost certainly already planning his murder during the moments I spent with Steve that day. And now I'm covering that story for Dateline. It is not pleasant, but it is also something I could not hand off to someone else.
Let's be very clear here: this isn't my story. It's Steve's and Natalie's, and also belongs to the families and friends of all the people taken away from us with this horrible, regrettable, and utterly preventable spree of violence.
And it belongs to Dr. Connie Jones... whom you'll meet on Dateline. Her remarkable personal story of love, pain, and terror, and courage is at the center of what happened to Steve. I know Steve would be glad she's alive to tell it.
I'd been talking with Steve a lot in the weeks before he was murdered, much of it regarding a project he felt particularly passionate about. Steve believed strongly that the public needs to be educated about how to recognize the signs of oncoming violence.
Think about it. Many of us know how to tell when someone is having a heart attack or suffering from hypothermia. Many of us know what to do if someone is choking. But almost no one other than a mental health professional knows how to recognize the warning signs of violence.
We interviewed Dr. Park Dietz, a nationally-known forensic psychiatrist who was also a friend and mentor of Steve's, about those warning signs.
Those aren't the only signs, and no single one of them is, by itself, a predictor of violence. Steve would argue that all of them deserve your attention. We live in a world in which there's too much violence and not enough mental health care.
So please, watch our story and think about whether you've seen those behaviors in anyone you know. And if you have, don't remain silent.
I'd really like it if Steve's death meant something. His life already meant so much.
Josh Mankiewicz’s report ‘Unraveled’ to be rebroadcast Friday, August 2 at 10/9c