Joseph Parker was a man full of demons. He was sexually assaulted as a child. He heard voices. He talked to himself, often rambling about religion. And, his mother says, within the last five years, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“I think his mental illness and the sexual abuse got to him,” said Susan Davis, who lives in rural Ford, Va. “He kept hearing voices, and the voices were telling him to do bad things.”
On Sunday, her 30-year-old son killed two co-workers at an Irvine Albertsons where he worked as a bagger and injured three other people with a sword before being gunned down by police -- a final bizarre act by a man many thought of as odd.
Parker grew up in Virginia, one of two children raised by Davis after their father abandoned the family when the children were infants. Parker was a happy kid, always smiling, his mother said. When Parker was 11, he told his mother that he had been molested over several years.
Parker got therapy, but the experience didn’t seem to have scarred him, Davis said. Yet, later in life, he never dated. After graduating from high school, Parker held a variety of jobs -- forklift mechanic, bartender, locksmith. He also worked as a volunteer fireman.
“He was trained to save lives,” Davis said. “This is just so shocking to me, just so devastating. Not just for me but for the innocent people that he hurt and killed. It’s just like a bad nightmare.”
It wasn’t until Parker moved to California five years ago that he began having flashbacks of his childhood trauma after meeting a co-worker in a locksmith shop, Davis said. The man looked just like the man who had abused him, she said.
Parker’s condition deteriorated. The voices in his head began to speak louder.
He was diagnosed as schizophrenic and was hospitalized at least twice -- the last time in January.
“It did a lot of damage to him,” she said of the molestation. “He did tell me that he never told anybody about it. He was never able to talk about it because it was so bad.”
About eight months ago, Parker handed former neighbor Ilya Vaks a two-page letter he apparently wrote.
It spoke of Christianity, Satanism and nazism, didn’t make any sense and was full of grammatical errors.
“It was crazy,” Vaks said. “One sentence was pro this, and the next one would negate it.”
Not everyone described Parker as disturbed.
Ricky Cherry, a 26-year-old checker at the store, said he had known him for two years and found him intelligent and engaging.
“I’m extremely surprised, shocked. He was a good guy,” Cherry said.
“He was real intellectual” and often spoke about history and religion.
He was pleasant with customers at Albertsons.
But he often seemed depressed, and some who knew Parker say he was on medication for his mental state. He talked to himself.
But during conversation, Parker seemed to struggle to form what he wanted to say, said Becky Guerra, who lived in the Irvine condo complex where Parker had rented a room.
“He seemed like a nice guy.”
She would see him at the mailbox, and he always had a smile. But then there was the time he rambled on about kids, and Guerra wasn’t sure what he was talking about -- or whether they were his kids or someone else’s.
Former neighbor Sharron Hughes said she talked to Parker months ago and he said he was unhappy with his job at Albertsons. He complained that he was passed over for a promotion.
Stephanie Tutwiler lived across a walkway from Parker until recently.
When he saw her at Albertsons, he would say:
“Hey girlfriend. What’s happening?”
Several times she gave him rides home from the market. One day, he handed her a religious tract laced with profanity. She read only a small portion of it before throwing it away.
“That’s when I started avoiding him,” Tutwiler said.
She said Parker often seemed “spaced out, in another world. The stuff he talked about didn’t make sense.”
The last time she talked to him was a week or two ago at the market. From his facial expressions she could tell he was very angry.
When told about Sunday’s attack, Tutwiler put her face in her hands and began to cry.
“Oh, my God,” she said.
“I’ve given that guy rides three or four times. I’m thinking what could have happened to me.”
Times staff writer Mike Anton contributed to this report.