One evening in June 2020, Brady Daniel Zipoy walked into Candace Garlitos’ Shakopee home. Garlitos and her grandfather, Tim Guion, saw a pair of tan, barefoot feet making their way down the glass-railing staircase that led to their basement. Tim Guion reached for a gun that was holstered to his waist.

“Can I help you?” Tim Guion asked.

Those were Tim Guion’s last words, according to court documents. Zipoy replied, “yeah,” before shooting Tim Guion several times, ending the life of the beloved 65-year-old father, grandfather and friend.

In March, 24-year-old Zipoy was acquitted of his crime by reason of mental illness. Scott County District Court Judge Paula Vraa deemed him unable to comprehend the wrongfulness of the act while he committed it. Three forensic psychiatrists who evaluated Zipoy cited post traumatic stress disorder and other potential mental illnesses that led to his psychosis, or a departure from reality.

According to evidence submitted to the court, those who knew Zipoy — a marine veteran who had recently returned from a deployment to Syria — said he was reeling from a series of life events and suffering from PTSD, which led to Guion’s tragic death.

But in Zipoy’s mind, he was protecting his friends and family from a “bad guy,” court documents said.

The case, which Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar called a “tragedy on all scales,” has brought to light the importance of addressing mental illness before it’s too late.

The shooting

Zipoy — who returned home from serving in Syria in 2018 — was spending time at a friend’s house the day of the shooting. His friend told investigators Zipoy had been “acting weird.” According to court evidence, Zipoy told one friend prior to the shooting he’d recently “baptized” himself in Lake Michigan and had returned the morning of June 8 — the same day of the shooting — and that he’d seen “demons on the road” when he’d been deployed to Syria.

Other friends and loved ones of Zipoy told investigators they believed something had “set him off” amid the unrest from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, according to court documents.

Those who knew Zipoy told investigators he never made any indication that he wanted to commit an act violence.

But on June 8, 2020, Zipoy abruptly left his friend’s residence, which is located on the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux reservation, drove away, and minutes later pulled his car into the next-door driveway of Tim Guion’s granddaughter, Candace Garlitos.

Evidence submitted to the court indicated Zipoy did not know who lived there.

Zipoy could then be seen via surveillance video leaving the residence barefoot and firing his gun several more times in the air, according to evidence submitted to the court. When Zipoy was arrested shortly after the shooting, he asked the officer, “Are you going to take me to the moon?”

At the time of the incident, Zipoy stated he did not take medications or have a doctor he saw on a regular basis, although court documents stated Zipoy and his friends had been using “a small amount” of marijuana prior to the shooting.

‘A perfect storm’

When Zipoy was a kid growing up in Prior Lake, he was shy. He played hockey, held jobs at places like Caribou Coffee and enjoyed being active outdoors. He only made a handful of friends, but they were good ones, and he kept them through graduations and address changes and wedding invitations, his mother Carmen Zipoy told the newspaper.

After he graduated high school, Zipoy failed an Air Force hearing test and was told he couldn’t fly, so his journey brought him to plan B: the Marine Corps.

After basic training, Zipoy spent two-and-a-half years at Camp Pendleton in San Diego before he was deployed to Syria with a special forces team. He spent four months there — and the entire time, Zipoy’s mother, Carmen Zipoy — couldn’t sleep.

When Zipoy first arrived home, Carmen Zipoy said he seemed “distant,” but not necessarily unstable.

“I chalked it up to the deployment,” Carmen Zipoy said.

He was doing well. He was enrolled in classes at Normandale Community College. He prepared healthy meals for himself every week and worked out every day.

But Zipoy was also going through a breakup with a long-term girlfriend he’d been with since high school. And then when the pandemic hit, Zipoy’s structured routine was thrown for a loop. He could no longer attend in-person classes or go to the gym.

Then, riots and chaos unfolded down the street from Zipoy’s Minneapolis home following the death of George Floyd. Black Hawk helicopters and drones flew over Zipoy’s head on a daily basis. To normal civilians, the sights were surreal.

But for Zipoy, the sights were all too familiar. In his mind, a war was happening in his backyard.

“It was a perfect storm,” Carmen Zipoy said.

Carmen Zipoy said she and her husband started to notice unusual changes in their son’s demeanor: he became hyper-vigilant. He talked about conspiracy theories, God and religion often — things he’d never seemed to take interest in before. In communication with friends and family, Zipoy started telling false stories about places he’d never been to before and recalling encounters with the supernatural, according to the evidence submitted to the courts.

Although his family didn’t know it at the time, Zipoy was showing early signs of psychosis.

On June 8 of last year — the very day of the shooting — Carmen Zipoy had set up an appointment at the VA for Zipoy for the following morning, she told the newspaper and investigators in the case. But by the next morning, Zipoy was booked at the Scott County Jail.

“These soldiers are sent over as warriors, but then they’re sent home and expected to act as normal civilians,” Carmen Zipoy said. “We’d never dealt with mental illness in our family before. We didn’t know what to look for.”

Trauma’s impact

Hector Matascastillo, the clinical director, psychotherapist and program developer at Life Development Resources, a private mental health clinic with locations in the Twin Cities, knows a thing or two about PTSD progressing into psychotic episodes.

On Jan. 24, 2004, Matascastillo was in a razzed state, armed with two unloaded pistols, facing what he thought was an armed enemy combatant with a gun aimed at him.

In reality, Matascastillo — a highly decorated former U.S. Army Ranger and Minnesota National Guard first sergeant — was undergoing a psychotic episode in the front yard of his split-level home in Lakeville as a winter snowstorm bore down on the Twin Cities. The “enemy” was an off-duty cop who had responded to a 911 dispatcher’s call about a domestic disturbance.

Matascastillo’s felony gun possession charges were downgraded to gross misdemeanors. He served some time in jail as well as community service and two years’ probation. Now, he’s dedicated to helping other veterans get access to the help they need before it’s too late. In 2012 he became a licensed social worker and is currently enrolled in a doctoral program for clinical and forensic psychology. He works primarily with veterans and first responders.

Matascastillo, who has been to several countries on deployment throughout his military career, said Zipoy’s deployment to Syria was likely “very rough.”

“When you’re with specialized units, you’re there for a short amount of time, but it’s very violent,” Matascastillo said. “We go to kill you.”

That kind of experience, Matascastillo said, doesn’t just leave your mind when you return home.

“Trauma changes the way you see yourself in the world. When everything was OK, you felt confident, you were able to relate to others, you were able to enjoy fishing and hunting, going to the State Fair and the Renaissance Festival. Life was whatever you wanted it to be,” Matascastillo said. “But when trauma hits, your brain begins to believe there’s no such thing as safety. The brain begins to believe everything could possibly kill me, and it doesn’t have a way to determine physical or emotional pain.”

Matascastillo said one way of coping with that trauma is dissociation, because eventually, “it’s too painful to live in your own head.”

‘Can I help you?’

Tim Guion’s children, who were given special permission to address the court after the March 24 decision was made, said the last sentence their father spoke — “can I help you?” — is a reflection of who he was as a person.

Guion, who was also a veteran, raised his three children alone. But he raised more than three kids. Garlitos’ mother was killed by a drunk driver in Scott County when she was 9, so Guion took her in. He also took in neighborhood kids and teenage outcasts who didn’t have a place to stay, Garlitos and other family members told the newspaper.

When Guion’s children were young, they didn’t have much money. But he made it work. He’d cook dinner in a toaster oven, wash the dishes by hand and dry the laundry on a clothesline in the basement. He’d wake up at 4 a.m. each morning to scrub Minnehaha Tavern clean before he’d report to his second job at Carbonic Machines, just so he could take his kids on a vacation each summer.

“He did everything for his kids,” Guion’s son, Taylor Guion, said.

Tim Guion’s oldest daughter, Nikolle Guion, said her father’s out-of-the-blue killing is like “reliving your worst nightmare over and over again.”

Court proceedings

Tim Guion’s children will now enter a civil suit with Zipoy, though they said at the March 24 hearing they wish they could see the man who killed their father go to prison instead.

“Things continue to happen in my life that I want to tell my dad,” Taylor Guion said. “I feel like the justice system has let my father down.”

Brady Zipoy offered a short and tearful apology to Guion’s family at the March 24 hearing after the statements were made.

“I’m really sorry for what I did. I think about it constantly,” Zipoy said. “I don’t expect you to forgive me… I’m just really sorry for all the pain I caused you guys.”

Carmen Zipoy knows all too well what Tim Guion’s family is going through. Her own brother was murdered when she was 14 years old.

“It’s very hard to comprehend that your child murdered somebody,” Carmen said. “I just don’t know where to go with it.”

Nikolle Guion, who said she works in the mental health field as a social worker, said the situation has been “incredibly difficult” for her, since she understands what it means to have a mental illness left untreated. Nikolle Guion said she wishes Zipoy’s family would have taken action sooner to get him help.

Carmen Zipoy said she and her husband feel the weight of that blame, despite the court ruling.

“My husband and I feel like we failed him. I don’t know if we’ll ever get rid of that guilt,” she said. She added she thinks there are several factors at play in the tragedy: the military system, Zipoy himself, his friends.

Matascastillo said “the whole flipping city of Minneapolis” is to blame, since the George Floyd killing and the unrest that ensued is what triggered Zipoy’s PTSD that summer.

“I can’t go on blaming,” Carmen Zipoy said. “We have to move on. And maybe try to tweak some things.”

Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar said the friends and family who were with Zipoy prior to the shooting cannot be held criminally accountable, especially since he was showing no prior signs of violence.

Getting help

There are hundreds of resources available for veterans like Zipoy who need help. The VA offers many of the same services as Matascastillo’s clinic for veterans starting to show signs of mental illnesses. There are also several nonprofits such as Mission Continues, Team Red, White and Blue and Lone Survivor that offer resources for veterans.

“Logistically, it is easy to get help, but psychologically, it feels impossible,” Matascastillo said. “Asking for help feels overwhelming, and then you start believing you’re the only one who’s this crazy… so you just don’t reach out for help.”

Matascastillo said he receives more phone calls from mothers of marine veterans than from the marine veterans themselves.

Barry Venable, a public affairs specialist with the VA, said there is a bounty of resources available for any veteran struggling with PTSD or other mental illnesses. But the veteran has to take the first step to get that help, first by enrolling into the VA system, and then by setting up an appointment.

“There are facilitation efforts to make sure that opportunity is available to them, but if the veteran chooses, they certainly do not have to engage with the VA,” Venable said.

Matascastillo added the general population seems to lack knowledge surrounding the signs of mental illness and who to call when someone needs help. He said not enough people realize their local police departments are trained to deal with people in mental health crises and are afraid to call law enforcement for fear of getting their veteran in trouble.

“Somewhere, that information is not getting out,” Matascastillo said.

Next steps

Moving forward, Judge Vraa will issue a civil commitment for Zipoy, which is a court-ordered treatment for people who are mentally ill. That means Zipoy will be evaluated by psychiatrists again to determine his current mental state and suggest the best treatment for him — although Zipoy’s defense attorney Brock Hunter said the civil commitment is more of a procedural requirement than anything else.

After the civil commitment trial, Zipoy is likely to be committed to the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, Hunter said.

Nikolle Guion said in an interview with the newspaper that, while it’s difficult for her to grasp that the man who killed her father will not be spending time in prison, she feels like her father’s hand has been involved in the process of helping Zipoy find help.

“There’s no winners here,” Nikolle Guion said. “The biggest thing for our family is that I hope (Brady Zipoy) gets help. Our dad would be the first to want that.”

Additional reporting from the Pioneer Press

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.

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