BIDDEFORD — The mother of a teenager charged with murder called police on at least three days – including once almost two months before the fatal fire that Dylan Collins is accused of setting – to report that her son had collected bomb-making materials and researched the Columbine High School massacre online.

Donna Pitcher said after one of those calls on July 27, in which she told police she was afraid he had gone “crazy,” her son was committed to Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford for a month-long psychological evaluation. But she said the hospital released him on Aug. 28 after medical staff declined to seek a court order to have Collins committed to Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.

“For all those weeks he was in there (at Southern Maine Health Care), they told me he was a danger to himself and others, not a mild danger, a huge danger,” Pitcher said.

She spoke to the Portland Press Herald by phone Thursday afternoon after learning that the Biddeford Police Department had released call logs requested by the Press Herald that detailed her appeals for help for her son.

Pitcher was initially reluctant to speak publicly after Collins was arrested Nov. 7 on two counts of murder and one count of arson, saying she knew the community would judge her. But she said the police call logs show she did all the things a parent could do for a child, only to be let down by the state’s mental health authorities.

“I do not feel guilty. The reason for that is, I did everything I could to sound the alarm,” Pitcher said. “I feel they missed big-time in the care and treatment of my son. They missed huge.”

Collins, 18, of Biddeford, is accused of setting the Sept. 18 fire in an apartment building at 35 Main St. that killed James Ford, 21, and Michael Moore, 23, and displaced two dozen people who lived there. Moore died the day after the fire. Ford died a month later from infections brought on by the toxic chemicals in the smoke he inhaled.

Ford’s sister, Justine DiPietro, was shocked that state authorities hadn’t taken Collins into their care.

“I cannot grasp how many signs there were, and people just ignored it,” DiPietro said. She said that to her knowledge, Collins did not know anyone in the apartment building he is accused of setting on fire.

Sue Hadiaris, a spokeswoman at Southern Maine Health Care, said Thursday afternoon that she was unable to confirm whether Collins was admitted to the hospital July 27, and deferred all comment to Maine State Police regarding Collins’ most recent stay in the hospital this month.

Police first took Collins into custody Nov. 5 after Pitcher again called Biddeford police to say she had found some new, troubling things about her son. She said police later found more, but declined to say what the new information entailed.


Police brought Collins to Southern Maine Health Care on Nov. 5 and he remained there until investigators were able to obtain a warrant Nov. 7 for his arrest on the murder and arson charges. On Monday, Biddeford police added a concealed weapon charge.

Collins is being held without bail, pending a possible hearing to determine whether he should be allowed bail. He was not required to enter a plea to the murder and arson charges when he appeared Nov. 7 in York County Superior Court in Alfred. He pleaded not guilty in Biddeford District Court on Monday to the concealed weapon charge, a misdemeanor.

Authorities have tried to keep as much information from the public as possible since Collins’ arrest, with judges in several courts impounding police applications for arrest and search warrants.

However, Biddeford police released detailed logs of calls that Pitcher made seeking help for her son, after Police Chief Roger Beaupre determined they were public records.

Pitcher called 911 at 1:43 p.m. on July 27, weeks before the fire, to report “finding knives, flammables and bomb-making materials all over her (apartment) and in her son’s room,” the police logs say.

She said he also had done online research on the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado, in which two students at the school killed 12 other students and a teacher in a planned attack that included a bomb used to divert first responders.

“She is afraid that he is crazy and that he may get out of work early. She has locked the doors,” police dispatcher Lori Penney noted in the call log.

The July 27 call log indicates that Collins was taken to Southern Maine Health Care after he came home, and that police seized a firearm from the apartment that he shared with his mother at 37 Graham St.

In another call Oct. 14, Pitcher called police to report that Collins had ordered a passport online and that she wanted help stopping her son.

Pitcher then walked into the Biddeford police station on Oct. 20 to report that Collins had taken the phone from her and threatened to punch her if she didn’t leave their home. She also reported to police that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been to their home that day to seize Collins’ passport, according to the call log. It’s not clear why the FBI seized his passport.

Pitcher said her son’s demeanor changed drastically at the beginning of this year. He dyed his blond hair black, wore only dark clothes and stopped communicating. She said her son’s behavior worsened when he was released from Southern Maine Health Care in August, and that he blamed her for having him committed.

“When he came home, he kept his iPod on all the time. He didn’t communicate for weeks. He wouldn’t speak. He would pass me in the hallway. He wouldn’t look at me,” Pitcher said.

Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, declined to comment about any developments in the cases against Collins or the information in the Biddeford police call logs.

“At this point, all further communication will come out in the form of court documentation,” he said.

Timothy Feeley, spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the arson and murder charges against Collins, said prosecutors are aware of “the July incident.”


The struggle to obtain mental health services for a family member – particularly one who is 18 or older – can be frustrating and frightening, mental health advocates say.

“When a child hits age 18, if they don’t want to go see a health care provider, the parents can’t make them do it,” said Joe Bruce, of Caratunk, a founder of the national group Treatment Before Tragedy.

Bruce began advocating for improved access to mental health treatment and bolstering families’ involvement in making treatment decisions after efforts to get treatment for his adult son failed. In 2006, Bruce’s wife, Amy, was killed by their son, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

“If the child who is now turned 18 says they don’t want the parents involved in their treatment, they can be completely locked out,” he said. Although unfamiliar with the specifics of Collins’ case, Bruce said Pitcher’s struggle is a familiar one.

“Clearly the mother wasn’t making these calls because the kid was willing to be treated,” Bruce said. “I have to assume he didn’t want anything to do with doctors.”

Parents then have to confront the rules surrounding involuntary in-patient treatment, which requires that the person pose a likelihood of serious harm to themselves or others before he or she can be committed.

“You can take someone to the hospital and everyone can look at them and say this person is really sick. If they appear to be harmless, they can’t do anything,” he said.

Staff Writer David Hench contributed to this report.

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