‘He will not have died in vain’ – Woman who shot ex-husband shares his story of mental illness
When Karen Hankins talks about her ex-husband’s struggle with mental illness, one thing is clear: She loved him deeply, even as she fired the shot that killed him.
“I just realize the man who broke into my window was not Shane. It was the illness, and the man that I loved and who battled those demons is now at peace,” she said Saturday, sitting in the sunporch of her mother’s Redmond-area home.
Karen has been all but cleared by law enforcement officials in the Wednesday shooting. Investigators believe she killed Patrick “Shane” Hankins, 41, to protect herself and their two children after he smashed through a plate glass window and tried to stab her with a pair of sharp antlers in the hallway of her home.
Karen, 51, agreed to share the story of her family’s years of struggle to get Shane help for his mental illness in the hope that another tragic ending can be prevented.
“I feel like if I can make it more public that this kind of thing can happen to anyone and that Shane wasn’t a monster, he was just ill, that he will not have died in vain,” she said.
“Because I still love him. I loved him in the beginning. I loved him in the middle, and I still love him now.”
Shane and Karen Hankins met in Portland about 20 years ago, she said. Shane raced thoroughbreds and quarter horses, and Karen’s dad was a race horse trainer.
Shane grew up in foster care and saw Karen’s dad as a father figure, said her brother-in-law, Dennis Gant.
Gant described Shane as the kind of guy you’d trust to take your wife out dancing. Which he did, along with Karen.
“I never worried when they were out with him,” Gant said.
In 1993, Shane was thrown from a horse, broke several vertebrae and suffered a serious head injury, Karen said. She took on the role of his caregiver, and the two became romantically involved.
After the accident, Shane had seizures and started behaving differently, Karen said.
“We spent a lot of time with a neurologist, and they kept saying there was something wrong, but they couldn’t tell what,” she said. He didn’t have insurance, and the diagnostic tests were expensive, so a proper diagnosis was elusive.
In 1996, Shane was arrested for drunken and reckless driving and went through a one-year diversion program to get the charges dismissed. Karen saw it as an isolated incident.
“He stayed sober for a long time after that,” she said. “He knew that he wanted to be a family man, and I couldn’t be part of (his drinking).”
That same year, Karen, who had been told she was infertile, became pregnant, and the couple’s daughter was born in June 1997. Just over a year later, the two were married.
“We both had the same idea of what a family was supposed to be, and he seemed like, because of what he went through growing up, he really, really wanted a family, so we got married,” she said.
In 2001, their son was born, and six months later, Shane had another run-in with the law because of his drinking.
He was arrested and later convicted of drunken driving and criminal mischief after the arresting officer reported that he repeatedly kicked her patrol car, and that she pulled her gun on him. Shortly after that, Karen’s father died, striking a further blow to Shane’s stability.
Shane’s behavior was becoming “erratic,” Karen said, and she knew something was “not right.” She now believes he was self-medicating with alcohol because doctors could not seem to get his prescription medications right.
“But I told him that if he wanted a life with me that (he) could not drink, and he would not get another chance,” she said.
Shane stayed sober for six years and saw countless doctors, psychiatrists and therapists, trying to figure out what caused him to fall into deep depressions and experience unpredictable mood swings.
In 2005, Shane’s foster parents were killed in a car accident, and his mental health deteriorated.
“Once his foster parents were killed, he never dealt with it. He just blocked it, and the swings became more intense, and it got to the point where I would find myself being on guard all the time or try to keep the kids away from him so there was no reason to react,” she said.
In early 2008, Shane’s depression became “really severe,” Karen said. By September, he had started drinking again and begun threatening her.
“I was never afraid of him when he wasn’t drinking, but when he was drinking, I felt he was capable of anything,” she said.
In September 2008, Shane blew up and threatened to kill Karen and the neighbor’s dog with one of his many hunting rifles.
Court records show Karen filed for and was granted an abuse prevention restraining order in connection with the incident, but she voluntarily withdrew it after his doctors convinced her his behavior could be controlled with medication.
In October 2008, Shane turned to his brother-in-law and his wife, Sherrie Gant, for help. The two drove him to St. Charles Bend, where the Gants say he did not get the help he needed.
“It’s the stigma of, any time there is alcohol tied to something, you’re a bum,” Dennis Gant said.
The Gants got Shane checked into Sage View — a locked mental health facility on the St. Charles Bend campus — but he was released the next day.
In November 2008, Shane pleaded guilty to interfering with a police report and was entered into the Deschutes County Mental Health Court program. The court supervises adult offenders with mental health problems.
“He was trying to get help,” Karen said. “He was doing what the court said, and he was going to his psychiatrist, and he wasn’t drinking, and he was getting random (urinalyses).”
Then Shane was laid off from his job as a forklift operator at a Redmond lumberyard, a job his family said he loved and took pride in.
“And he had related to me that it was very difficult for him that his wife was supporting his family,” Dennis Gant said.
On April 17, the Hankins’ children had a group of friends over for a slumber party. When Shane came home, he “started exhibiting bizarre behavior” and acted like a “schoolyard bully,” Karen said.
He chastised his son for missing a basketball shot and dragged the boy across the court. When Karen insisted that Shane leave, he drove off and flipped his 2005 Ford Ranger a short distance from their house.
A police report reads: “Was found unconscious and not breathing … laying in the back seat of a totaled vehicle. Beer can located on roadway within approximately 50 feet of Patrick’s vehicle.”
Emergency responders revived Shane, and he was airlifted to the hospital where he spent several days in a medically induced coma, Karen said. He had broken several more vertebrae. After nearly two weeks, Shane was released from St. Charles and moved to Sage View, where he stayed until May 14.
“At that point, I begged the (district attorney) not to release him because I was trying to get him help, and I thought if I could at least get him in jail, I could protect him from himself, and protect me and my children,” Karen said.
On May 4, Shane pleaded guilty to drunken driving in connection with the accident, again in mental health court.
Two days later, Karen was granted another abuse prevention restraining order preventing Shane from having contact with her. On May 9, Shane was released from jail and checked into a Bend motel.
Karen filed for divorce on May 26 and asked the court to order Shane’s visits with their children to be supervised by a court monitor.
“I didn’t ask for any child support because I knew he didn’t have any money, and the money he did have he needed for treatment,” she said.
Their divorce was granted on Aug. 15, 2009 — 11 years to the day after the two were married.
Shane continued to send Karen text messages and said he thought that the mental health court would release him from supervision in November. He got an apartment in Bend and begged Karen to lift the condition that his visits with the children be supervised.
“His number one biggest thing was he just wanted to be able to take the kids to (Drake) park because it was right near his apartment, and he wanted to take them fishing,” Sherrie Gant said.
He planned to go back to school at Central Oregon Community College to be a youth counselor for children in trouble with the court system, Karen said.
Shane was scheduled to be in court Tuesday. The day came and went with no communication, Karen said. Court records show Shane was not released from court supervision.
The next day Karen got a text.
“He (wrote that he) had an X-ray of his heart and they found me in it, and I couldn’t be removed or he would die,” she said, wiping away tears.
At about 9:30 p.m., Shane called and begged Karen to come to Drake Park and walk along the footbridge with him. She could tell he’d been drinking and told him no. She unplugged her phones and went to bed.
About an hour later, Shane showed up in a cab.
Karen called 911 and stayed on the phone as Shane came to the door asking to talk.
Karen told the dispatch operator she needed police right away but was told there was no one in the area.
After walking around outside, Shane tried to break the door down.
“And I knew at that point it was up to me,” Karen said. “So I went to get the handgun in my bedroom, and (the operator) said ‘Get your children in a room with no windows.’ So I think, ‘Bathroom.’”
She woke up her children and pushed them into a small bathroom as Shane started pounding on a plate glass window outside the living room. He broke through and came in.
Karen warned him that she had a gun, “and he said, ‘You won’t shoot me.’”
She fired a warning shot into the ceiling, but he kept coming and said, “You’re going to have to kill me to stop me now,” Karen said. She shot him, she thinks, in the arm and ran toward the back of the house to the bathroom door.
“I’m thinking, ‘You are not going to get through this door. I can’t let you have this gun, and I’m about to be attacked, and if I’m attacked I can’t protect my children,’” she said.
Shane grabbed her from behind, spun her around and started to shove a sharp deer antler toward her.
“He was expressionless as he came at me. There was nothing there. He was checked out,” she said.
Karen dropped the phone, held her handgun with both hands and fired into his chest.
“He took a couple of breaths and then hit the floor,” she said. “The second the bullet hit his chest and I saw what I did, I was hysterical. I was horrified. I knew what I had done, and I knew that I didn’t have a choice. I was angry because he made me do that. I tried everything I possibly could to make him stop, and it was him or me and the kids.”
She tried to block her children’s view of Shane’s body and rushed them out of the house.
Now, Karen and her family are trying to find a way to move on.
Dennis Gant, a contractor, has patched the bullet holes. He plans to replace the carpet and paint the house for his sister-in-law and her children, who are staying at Karen’s mother’s home for now.
Karen said her faith in God and the support of her family and friends will get her through.
Standing in Karen’s empty kitchen Saturday night, Dennis Gant quietly says what his entire family seems to be thinking.
“We’ll be all right.”
MORE – DA: Deadly Redmond shooting appears justified, KTVZ.com, November 6, 2009
MORE – Driver injured in NW Redmond rollover crash, KTVZ.com, April 18, 2009
MORE – Man fatally shot by ex-wife after breaking into her house, The World, November 6, 2009
MORE – Photographs by Patrick Hankins