Charges: Man shoots, kills his son's mother in St. Paul as she sat next to boy

Families of victim, accused gunman say mental health system failed him.

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Police investigate the scene of a shooting that left one woman fatally shot in St. Paul on Wednesday, April 16, 2014.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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John Ploetz knew Timothy Scott Hendricks was troubled.

So much so, he told police, that three times he had tried to get his daughter’s boyfriend and the father of the couple’s 8-month-old son committed for mental health treatment, according to a court record.

So when Hendricks, who was on a conditional jail release for a January charge that he pointed a rifle at his 13-year-old nephew, wanted to meet Michelle Ploetz for dinner Wednesday to talk and see their son, John Ploetz went along, too.

But her father’s presence didn’t save Michelle.

On Friday, Hendricks, 19, was charged in Ramsey County District Court with shooting and killing Michelle as her father drove them and their baby home after dinner on St. Paul’s East Side. The charges came after Michelle Ploetz, 20, a Cretin-Derham Hall graduate and St. Catherine University student, was taken off life support at Regions Hospital on Friday and died from a gunshot wound to the head.

The shooting ended tumultuous months in which Hendricks struggled with drugs and confessed that he needed help.

Jennifer Hendricks, who cared for her brother after their father died, said Friday that she tried “more than 40 times” to have him hospitalized for addiction and mental health issues. Each time he was sent home with medication; he was never admitted, she said.

She said her brother, a St. Paul Central High School graduate and “straight A” student, met Ploetz in 2010 through mutual friends.

“This is a typical case of somebody who is really, really crying out for help and somebody really needed help … now Michelle’s life has been lost and taken,” she said. “My brother’s life has been lost and taken.

“The system failed our families. The system failed my brother.”

‘Just snapped’

After his January arrest, Timothy Hendricks said that he was taking up to a bottle of prescription pills a day. He also told police that he was “trying to be a better father.”

Friday, however, he was back behind bars, charged with shooting Ploetz as she sat near their son and also trying to shoot her father, saying he “just snapped,” court records show.

According to the criminal complaint:

Police were called to White Bear Avenue near E. 7th Street shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday on a report of people fighting. While en route, dispatchers received a call from John Ploetz that his daughter had been shot and that Hendricks had fled with a gun.

Police arrived to find John Ploetz standing outside an SUV and his daughter in the back seat. She was unconscious but breathing, with her son in a car seat.

John Ploetz told police that Michelle met Hendricks so that he could see the boy. He went along, he said, out of concern for her safety.

During the dinner, Hendricks asked, “Why can’t this be like it always was?”

Michelle Ploetz and her father told Hendricks that he needed to get into a treatment program. They also discussed meeting next week so that Hendricks again could visit his son.

After the dinner, John Ploetz was driving the group home. He told police that he heard a “pop,” stopped the car, then heard another “pop” as something whizzed past his head and broke the windshield.

He got out and tried to get control of Hendricks’ gun, but Hendricks shot at him twice more before fleeing.

Police later went to an East Side apartment complex to look for Hendricks and spoke to a woman who said he had spent the past few nights on her couch. Officers found a gun bag with ammunition on the couch. The woman told police that Hendricks had told her Tuesday that he was going to kill Michelle Ploetz, but he had threatened to hurt her before and the woman didn’t take him seriously, the complaint said. He also threatened to hurt himself, she said.

Investigators later learned that Hendricks was on his way to Regions, where he was arrested.

Hearing voices

Hendricks told police that he was hearing voices about the time of the shooting. He said that during the dinner, he was told that “they” wanted full custody of his son and that on the ride home, Michelle Ploetz yelled at him and said he would never see the boy.

“I just snapped,” Hendricks said. “I was hearing voices in my head and I just snapped and I couldn’t tell you really what happened.”

John Ploetz told investigators that he tried three times to get Hendricks, who lived in the basement of the Ploetz family’s St. Paul home, committed because he feared Hendricks might kill him or his family.

“I feel the system really failed Michelle and her family,” Jennifer Hendricks said. “I feel the system really failed my brother. And when somebody tells you they hear voices, when somebody tells you that they’re sick, when somebody tells you that they’re scared, then you should take them and you should help them.”

In a statement Friday, Ploetz’s family thanked friends and family for their prayers and support and spoke of her passions, which included Korean drumming and dance, and her infant son.

Hendricks, meanwhile, was scheduled to undergo surgery. He broke his pelvis and jaw jumping over a railing while in custody. He was on suicide watch at the time.

nicole.norfleet@startribune.com • 612-673-4495

libor.jany@startribune.com • 651-925-5033

 

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