I just got off the phone with Colin Henderson, who is frenetically monitoring breaking news in Oklahoma, where yet another patient at Scientology’s flagship Narconon drug treatment center has been found dead.
Jeanne LeFlore of the McAlester News-Capital broke the news earlier today that Stacy Dawn Murphy, 20, had died at the facility, which is in the town of Canadian.
By the time that news hit, Henderson was already sending out messages to Oklahoma state officials, putting even more heat on them now that at least three deaths have occurred at the Narconon center since this past October.
“This young lady’s death is on the hands of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health Substance Abuse Services for their inaction after two previous deaths,” Henderson tells me.
Henderson himself was a patient at the center in July 2007. Since then, he’s been trying to get the word out about Narconon’s quack science, its reliance on low-paid non-medical staff, rampant drug abuse among patients, and dangerous conditions for patients in withdrawal.
His efforts resulted in a recent three-part series by Marisa Mendelson at the Fox affiliate in Oklahoma City. “That scrutiny definitely helped,” Henderson says, but now he’s angry that another patient has died while most of his messages to state officials have gone unanswered.
Today, he says, he and David Edgar Love were talking on a Skype call at about 2:40 pm when they were tipped by one of their Facebook sources with connections inside the Narconon facility.
“We were told a woman had died of an overdose in the withdrawal unit this morning. I called the sheriff’s department, and they confirmed that there had been a death,” Henderson says. “I started making immediate phone calls to state officials, including the governor’s office.”
LeFlore reported that the death is under investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
Stacy Murphy was from Owasso, Oklahoma, and I found this photo of her at her Facebook page…
Henderson says that he’s been sending hundreds of messages about Narconon’s unscientific methods and its real purpose — to recruit patients into Scientology — and has targeted in particular his state representative, T. W. Shannon, who is slated to become Oklahoma’s next Speaker of the House if Republicans hold a majority after the next election.
Henderson says this is the last thing he received from Shannon, an e-mail sent March, 2011: “Don’t have enough info to form an opinion. In general, I support faith-based treatment programs as statistics prove they have some higher rates of success. I don’t see a problem with facilities being up front regarding their priorities.”
“That last line shows that he hasn’t read a single thing about the place,” Henderson says — Narconon centers always downplay their connection to Scientology, and patients around the country are often referred to the centers by parents or courts while completely unaware that they are putting vulnerable people in the hands of Scientology recruiters.
Now, Henderson says, Murphy’s death may finally make Shannon take another look at this “faith-based” facility.
“When I called today, his executive secretary said that Shannon was on the phone with the Department of Mental Health for the first time, discussing Narconon.”
And Scientology’s drug treatment center may have even more to be concerned about: on August 24, Henderson tells me, David Love is coming to town.
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Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, and if you ask nicely he’ll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, “What is Scientology?” Another good overview is our series from last summer, “Top 25 People Crippling Scientology.” At the top of every story, you’ll see the “Scientology” category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we’ve covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and was sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology’s “Mecca,” whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology’s policy of “disconnection” that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We’ve also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there’s plenty more coming.