Virginia state police are investigating a stabbing attack on a prominent state senator as an attempted murder and suicide by his son, who died at the scene, an official said Tuesday.
Creigh Deeds, 55, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Virginia in 2009, was reported in fair condition after being hospitalized with stab wounds Tuesday.
His son Gus, 24, was dead of a gunshot wound at their home west of Charlottesville, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.
Gus Deeds had undergone a mental health evaluation under an emergency custody order on Monday, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch interview with Dennis Cropper, executive director of the Rockbridge County Community Services Board.
The younger Deeds was released from Bath County Community Hospital because no psychiatric beds were available across a wide area of western Virginia, Cropper said.
"We're still piecing together the exact circumstances that led to the altercation,'' Geller said at an afternoon news conference in Charlottesville. "Based on the evidence we have now, we are looking at this as an attempted murder and suicide.''
Geller declined to comment on the mental health aspects of the case, citing legal restrictions on disclosure of personal health matters and the investigation.
She said Deeds was stabbed numerous times in the head and torso but was alert and had given statements to authorities. She said police were not looking for other suspects.
Austin "Gus'' Deeds was valedictorian of his 2007 class at Bath County High School and had been a student at College of William & Mary since 2007, though not continuously, and had recently withdrawn as a student, the college said in a statement.
"He withdrew from the college last month and was not currently enrolled at the time of his death. Our hearts go out to the entire Deeds family,'' the school's statement said said.
The Treatment Advocacy Center, a Virginia-based non-profit organization that seeks timely treatment of people with severe mental illness, said the Deeds case points to the need for more mental health treatment capacity. It said Virginia has only 15% of the mental illness treatment beds that it needs, based on population size.
"The elimination of hospital beds for people who are psychotic or otherwise need help in a crisis is a driving force behind a long list of terrible consequences, including preventable violent acts," said Doris A. Fuller, the center's executive director.
"If there had been a hospital bed available for Gus Deeds, he may be alive today, and his father would not be grievously wounded,'' she said.
Ron Manderscheid, executive director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors, told USA TODAY earlier this year that spending on public mental health has declined markedly in recent years, and in-patient hospital care is very hard to come by.
Few people, even with insurance, can afford to pay for residential psychiatric care on their own, Manderscheid said. Most families rely on publicly funded hospital care.
"It is virtually impossible to get mental health care for many people who desperately need it," Manderscheid said. He noted that one in three people with "severe" mental illness never receive any treatment at all. Two in three of those with "moderate" illness remain untreated, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Geller said troopers responded to an early-morning 911 call from Deeds' home in Millsboro, where they found his son alive but with a gunshot wound. He died at the scene, she said.
Authorities said Deeds left the home on foot after being stabbed and walked down the hill to Route 42, where he was spotted by his cousin, who was passing by. They went to the cousin's house to call 911. Deeds was then taken to the hospital by helicopter from a nearby farm.
Deeds had four children with his first wife, whom he divorced in 2010. He remarried in 2012.
The longtime state legislator ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2005.
In 2009, he defeated Terry McAuliffe for the Democratic nomination for governor in a three-way race, but lost to Bob McDonnell, the current Republican governor. McAuliffe recently won the race for governor as McDonnell's successor.
McDonnell issued a statement saying Virginians were united in prayer for the Deeds family "in this tough and sad time."
"The news from this morning is utterly heartbreaking," the governor said in his statement. "Creigh Deeds is an exceptional and committed public servant who has always done what he believes is best for Virginia and who gives his all to public service. He cares deeply about Virginia, and the people of Virginia care deeply for him."
McAuliffe, the governor-elect, tweeted: "Dorothy and I are praying for the Deeds family at this difficult time."
"Stunning news from Bath County," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a tweet. "I am praying for @CreighDeeds and his family at this very, very difficult time."
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a tweet: "Praying for Creigh Deeds and his family."
Contributing: Catalina Camia, Donna Leinwand Leger and Michael Winter, USA TODAY