Richard Happ’s relatives had worried for years that he would get out again, and two weeks ago their fears were confirmed.
Happ had fatally stabbed his parents with a butcher knife in their Waconia home in 1999, and he also tried to kill his brother David. He spent more than 15 years under indefinite civil commitment as mentally unstable and dangerous at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.
In 2015, Happ was granted a provisional discharge from the hospital and sent to state-operated, four-bed group home in West St. Paul. But Happ, now 49, left the group home on St. Patrick’s Day and didn’t return, sending his relatives into a panic that he would target them for opposing his release from the hospital.
Police tracked Happ to a small motel outside Chicago a few days later. It most likely will be his last taste of freedom.
Happ is now charged with two counts of felony escape of custody for violating the conditions of release. He had approval to leave the group home for a day, but didn’t return. He also had to take prescribed medication, which would have run out several days after he absconded, the charges said.
“The relatives were very, very relieved that he was found and that he didn’t hurt anybody or himself,” said Dean Stuewe, a first cousin who has stayed in touch with Happ, but was against his release. “Richard had a tendency to ... act as a model patient, only to have it unravel. We take no comfort that our warnings weren’t heeded.”
Immediately after Happ was apprehended in Illinois, a Carver County district judge ordered a hold in connection with his civil commitment. The order requires that he be arrested and returned to St. Peter for revocation of his provisional discharge, the charges said.
As a health care provider for Happ, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) said it can’t share information about specific patients. In general, when people are civilly committed and then return to the community under a provisional discharge, they are required to follow a set of conditions, such as where they live, what medications they must take and limits on where they can go, according to DHS.
“Our first priority when a patient fails to comply with the terms of their provisional discharge is public safety and the safety of the individual,” said DHS Acting Commissioner Chuck Johnson. “DHS works proactively with law enforcement to provide critical information; we offer assistance locating the individual and provide investigative resources where appropriate.”
Stuewe was with his father when a Carver County deputy notified them about Happ’s disappearance several days later. They were unhappy that law enforcement didn’t notify relatives sooner or inform the public that Happ was on the loose. Carver Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Kamerud said people were notified in a timely manner.
While Happ was gone, each family “did their own thing” to take precautions, said Stuewe. They let their kids know he wasn’t at the group home, reminded them what he looked like and told them to call police if Happ showed up at their door.
It’s rare that a person civilly committed as mentally ill and dangerous is released from St. Peter. In 2012, the DHS believed Happ had progressed to the point that he could be discharged. At a hearing about his release in 2014, Happ said didn’t want to hurt anybody again and wasn’t concerned “any delusions will take me over.” His family and the Carver County attorney’s office vigorously fought his release.
Happ was under 24-hour supervision at the group home but was allowed to come and go as he pleased as long as he notified staff. Group home staff immediately called police when Happ didn’t return as promised.
Stuewe and other relatives speculated he may have been on his way to visit a relative in Tennessee and stopped near Chicago to meet some friends he knew in college.
Stuewe isn’t optimistic that Happ will permanently remain at St. Peter.
“I thought the system was already broken when they let him out,” he said. “And this is one more piece showing it.”