Michael Robert Pacewitz, the Fullerton man accused of fatally stabbing a 3-year-old girl, made attempts in recent months--however confused--to drive away the demons that accompanied him in his young life. The interview he gave with reporters last week and the picture of him that has emerged from those who knew him suggest that he had been a walking time bomb for a long time. His behavior in recent weeks became outrageous. Yet he was unable to get help, even though he had reached for it; and though some saw his problems and tried to assist, they couldn't make a difference. What a disturbing story this is of someone's free fall through the safety net of society.

That the suspect ever was left in the role of baby-sitter for two children on March 3 is, by itself, an incredible tale. He told interviewers a story that realizes the darkest fears of parents: that he thought for three hours about killing Marcelline Onick while she slept in her room. But even before a series of parental handoffs left him in charge of two children for a night, he had been sending distress signals over a period of years.

Pacewitz grew up on the fringe, moving from trailer park to cheap motel, and dropped out of school several times. In 1988, he was treated in a Ventura County psychiatric clinic but developed a drug problem. His association with a church group in Fullerton a year ago was another try at redemption, but it ended badly when he quit his job and reverted to drugs. Then his life completely unraveled: He allegedly stabbed his mother and her boyfriend, went to two facilities looking for help, then left before getting it. All before a 3-year-old died in bed.

His attempts at finding equilibrium may have been pitiful, but the bottom line is that Pacewitz didn't get the help he cried out for. It's early to say where the blame lies, but this much is clear now: Here's somebody who never should have fallen through the cracks.

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