A Belfast woman whose 37-year-old son remains missing after running from a Bangor psychiatric hospital on June 6 says the mental health system in Maine has failed her son and others.

Tammy Lacher Scully said this week that families are forced to “criminalize your loved one” to get them the help they need. She continues to search the Bangor area for her son, Graham Lacher, and often is joined by several volunteers.

“I think (the mental health care system) is woefully inadequate, even criminally so,” she said. “When a person can’t receive the care and treatment they need for mental illness, particularly when they are in a crisis, I see that as a disability rights issue.”

Graham Lacher in November in Belfast. Lacher, 37, is still missing after running from a Bangor psychiatric hospital on June 6. His mother, Tammy Lacher Scully, is critical of what she says is an inadequate mental health system in Maine that doesn’t properly serve those with severe cases of mental illness. Photo courtesy of Tammy Lacher Scully

The Morning Sentinel spoke with Scully for an understanding of one family’s struggle with a child contending with mental illness and with finding a continuum of care that serves the long-term health interests of that person.

Lacher, who his mother said was diagnosed as schizophrenic and who also is on the autism spectrum, was previously at a group home in Norridgewock but walked away from there in November and was missing for a couple of days before being found in Waterville. He was later placed at the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor but ran away after being taken outside for a walk.

“The autism makes him nonsocial, the schizophrenia makes him scared of people,” said Scully, who is the legal guardian for her son. 


Scully said the mental health system has failed her son by not doing enough for him.

“You pretty much have to criminalize your loved one to get them help,” Scully said. “The system responds to criminal activity, such as an observable threat to himself, an actual suicide attempt, or (a threat) to another person.

“I feel it is a violation of my son’s rights to withhold treatment until he’s committed a crime or tried to kill himself,” she said. “He should be able to receive services when he’s in crisis — for an illness that is not a life choice but a condition he was born with.”

She said there were many times when Lacher received treatment that improved his symptoms, but then it was withdrawn because he had made improvements.

“Most seriously mentally ill people, if they are in a system, it’s the prison system, and many of them are homeless,” she said.  

A spokesperson for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Jackie Farwell, said that when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, that is not a crime.


“That’s why the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is taking action to strengthen Maine’s behavioral health system to help keep Maine people who are struggling in their communities and out of jails and emergency departments whenever possible, as we progress toward long-term, sustainable solutions,” Farwell said in a statement. “Every budget signed into law by Governor Mills has increased funding for behavioral health, while Medicaid expansion has covered $244 million in services related to members’ behavioral health needs from January 2019 through June 30, 2021.”

More than $230 million in state and federal funding over the coming year will bolster Maine’s provider workforce, aiming to improve access to behavioral health services, Farwell said.

Farwell noted that Gov. Janet Mills in March proposed an initiative, passed by the Legislature in its budget, that supports assertive community treatment for people with serious and persistent mental illness. The policy also provides for targeted case management for people with behavioral health needs, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and other special healthcare needs; outpatient therapy for children and adults; and children’s residential care through one-time supplemental payments.

“This unique stop-gap funding will help stabilize the system as we work toward long-term reforms to strengthen community-based and crisis behavioral health services for Maine people,” Farwell said.

Scully had previously expressed frustration with what she saw as a delay in issuing a Silver Alert for her son when he went missing in June.

“I think the general public understands when a Silver Alert is issued for an older person typically with Alzheimer’s or dementia, we have an obligation to try to return them to safety,” she said this week. “I don’t think that is the case with individuals with severe mental illness.”


State Rep. Laura Supica, D-Bangor, said she is discussing Lacher’s disappearance with other lawmakers.

“We are interested in looking at this and seeing how we can fill the gap,” Supica said.

“It feels like it’s always the mother shouldering the burden for their children when it’s with mental health care or education or something else,” she said.

About 75 acres were searched over two days in the week Lacher went missing in Bangor. He’s capable of walking long distances, his mother said. Lacher may also be mute, she said, explaining that he was mute for months following the November disappearance and had only recently begun talking again before fleeing the Bangor hospital.

Tammy Lacher Scully holds her son, Graham Lacher, in a photo taken in the late 1980s. Lacher, now 37, is missing after running away from a Bangor psychiatric hospital on June 6. Scully is critical of what she says is an inadequate mental health system in Maine that doesn’t properly serve those with severe cases of mental illness. Photo courtesy of Tammy Lacher Scully

Scully said few services are provided for someone like Lacher once he’s an outpatient. She believes he would have benefitted from continued occupational therapy and psychotherapy designed specifically for those with schizophrenia.

The group home in Norridgewock had 24/7 supervision, dispensed medication, provided transportation to appointments and had other services, she said. But the home was geared toward people with less severe cases of mental illness.


Scully and her family did their best to supplement the efforts of the group home by frequently visiting Lacher, supporting his interest in nutrition and exercise, and involving him in art projects and other activities.

There have been news reports and online chatter about Lacher’s disappearance and Scully believes there is a misunderstanding on the public’s part.

“Lots of people say he’s an adult and he can make his own choices, leave him alone. But his decisions can be life-threatening and not based in reality,” she said. “It’s my obligation as his guardian to not let him do that. His poor decisions are not the same as you or I would make, they are life-threatening decisions.

“As a mother, of course I want my son to be as independent as he can be. He needs help in order to not put his life at risk,” Scully said. “My hope is that we find him alive, we address whatever physical health issues he is going to have, that we can adjust medications that help him manage his symptoms better, and we find him a living situation that provides him as much independence as he can manage.”  

Authorities ask that anyone who sees Lacher, or has information about his whereabouts, call Bangor police at 207-942-8211.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new comments from a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson. 

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.