To the regulars around Guilford Street in Baltimore, where many of the city's less fortunate congregate, the woman who started hanging around recently seemed out of place. "She didn't know her way around," says James Williams, 51, who is homeless. "She looked scared," adds Lavern Johnson, 50, also homeless. "You could tell she was different,"
Indeed, noticing the unfamiliar face, a woman who works in the area approached the stranger and found out her name: Katie. An Internet search of missing persons took her to the Web site of Rob Corcoran, whose wife Katie, 35, who suffers from severe mental illness, had checked out of a psychiatric hospital on Sept. 5 and gone missing. The good Samaritan contacted Rob on Nov. 10. The next day Rob was on the street, walking up to his wife, anxious to see if she was all right, or even if she would recognize him. She did. "He asked her if she wanted to come home," says Michael Akkaoui, the president of the metal-finishing company where Rob works, "and she said 'yes.'"
With that simple reply, the family's nine-week ordeal of worry over her fate ended in relief. From the antiques-filled farmhouse in Lincoln, R.I., that he shared with Katie, a stay-at-home mom, and their two children, Rob, 37, had mounted a massive search effort for his wife, who he says was diagnosed with a postpartum "delusional disorder." Teams of volunteers searched soup kitchens and shelters throughout the northeast. "It's just awful to have a child you bring into the world and not know if they are safe or alive," says her mother Nancy Newell. "That's devastating."
No one close to Katie saw the troubles coming. When her first son Thomas was born in 2003 she took to motherhood with joy. She gave up her job at a computer company and handled all the childcare. "She just beamed on her son," says best friend Joanne Medici. "Being married, having a child, were pretty much what she dreamed of." Her response when Chase was born in January was far different. Within weeks Rob would awaken at night to find Katie wandering around the house. When he asked his wife what was troubling her, recalls Rob, "She said she didn't want to have anything to do with me, the kids or her family." Instead, Katie, who had never even been a churchgoer, poured all her energy into religion, taking up, by turns, Buddhism, Catholicism and Christian Science.
Rob quickly moved to get treatment for Katie. In April he took her out to California, where she was hospitalized for two weeks while her mother took care of Chase. But she often refused to take her medication, hiding the pills in her cheek. Finally, in August, Rob coaxed her into entering Butler Hospital, a private facility in Providence. But she immediately wanted out and doctors there told Rob that without her cooperation there was little they could do for her. "They didn't feel they could hold her," says Rob. On the morning of Sept. 5, he and his mother-in-law were on their way to pick up Katie when they learned she had been allowed to leave.
In the following weeks there were several sightings of her, including Newport and New York City. It is unclear how she got to Baltimore or how she was getting by, but she appeared to be physically okay and was asking about her kids. As for the good Samaritan in Baltimore, who insisted on remaining anonymous, she and a friend refused the $50,000 reward Rob Corcoran's company had raised, preferring that the money go to Katie's treatment. "These two young ladies have been nothing short of amazing," says Akkaoui. "They said we don't need a reward."
- Judy Rakowsky/Lincoln,
- Rose Ellen O'Connor/Baltimore,
- Anne Driscoll/Boston.