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Weston hospitalized in ’96 for letter threats

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Russell Eugene Weston Jr. was a quiet loner who drifted back and forth between a cabin in the Montana mountains and a modest house in rural Illinois, all the while becoming an increasingly troubled figure who eventually was hospitalized two years ago after writing "threatening letters" to government officials, according to officials and people who knew him.

"He had something against" President Clinton personally and the government, said Jerry Swihart, an employee of the Warm Springs State Mental Hospital. "He was possessed by it. He went on and on."Weston, the gunman in the Capitol building shootout that killed two police officers on Friday, was involuntarily committed to Warm Springs by court order on Oct. 11, 1996, according to Andrew Malcolm, a spokesman for Gov. Marc Racicot of Montana. He was released on Dec. 2, 1996, because the hospital "deemed him no longer a threat to himself or others," Malcolm said. After Weston was released, a hospital employee drove him to his cabin here with the understanding that he would close it for the winter and return to his parents' home outside Valmeyer, Ill., where he had a series of appointments at a mental health center in nearby Waterloo. But it remained unclear whether he kept those appointments.

Earlier that year, Weston's anti-government statements, including an accusation that officials had planted land mines on his property in Montana, were virulent enough to attract the attention of the Secret Service, federal officials said. Weston was questioned by agents in April 1996, and the service's Presidential Protective Detail has maintained a slim file on him ever since.

That May, the Secret Service classified him as a minor threat - a probably harmless but potentially dangerous man, law-enforcement officials said. The Secret Service made the assessment after reviewing interviews with Weston conducted by local mental health authorities, they said.

The portrait of the 41-year-old Weston emerging from interviews with the few people who noticed him in the two tiny towns where he lived - Rimini, a former gold mining hamlet 17 miles southwest of Helena, Montana's capital, and Valmeyer, a Mississippi River town south of St. Louis - was of a withdrawn, introverted loner who grew increasingly angry and alienated over the years.

Indeed, when invitation letters went out for a 20-year reunion of the 63 members of his 1974 graduating class at Valmeyer High School, his came back scrawled with obscenities and a warning never to contact him again.

"There were a few expletives," said Gary Baum, whose wife, Sandy, was class president. "Basically, he said you could put the letter where the sun doesn't shine."

The anger apparently exploded Friday at the Capitol.

In Rimini, an old prospector's haunt in a thickly forested valley on the eastern shoulder of the Continental Divide - not far from where the convicted Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, lived - residents said they generally steered clear of Weston but thought he was harmless.

"When he was on his medication, he was fine, he would wave and talk," said May Moore, a longtime resident, as she stood Saturday morning on the village's main street, a dirt road leading to the Helena National Forest.

"When he was off the medication, he was paranoid, you just didn't know," Moore said. "His grandmother and his parents used to check in on him with the lady next door."