FAU student Jonatha Carr’s family tells their side of the story

Rachel Chapnick

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Jonatha Carr, 24, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder when she was 13 years old. Her outburst in GS120 on March 20 landed on YouTube, Reddit, Twitter and Facebook. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Carr.

Jonatha Carr, a 24-year-old FAU student, was two courses shy of graduation when she suffered a nervous breakdown and threatened to kill her professor and classmates.

The university suspended Carr for at least the semester following her outburst on March 20. Carr’s family said her rant was because she suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The family isn’t convinced FAU handled the situation properly. Since then, Joyce and Nicole Carr say the family has been receiving death threats from strangers and they’re worried about Carr’s safety, as well as her future.

Carr has suffered from mental breakdowns before, three of which required her to be Baker Acted. Carr found out she was mentally ill when she was 13, according to her mother and sister. They say mental disorders run in the family. Carr’s grandmother was bipolar, and her aunt and sister also battle the condition.

Carr’s antidepressant medication masks her disorders and lets her be an active member in FAU’s community. She wanted to be a doctor but a nervous breakdown in 2009 ended her dream. Psychiatric specialists told Carr she couldn’t go through residency, since she needed sleep for her mental disabilities, according to Joyce and Nicole Carr.

When that didn’t work out, Carr decided to be a chemistry teacher. With a 3.8 GPA, her family says she was on her way, until she asked her professor, “How does evolution kill black people?”

“The professor had made a comment. ‘Evolution is final, it’s not up for discussion,’” Joyce Carr said. According to her family, Carr, who is a creationist, had a problem with her evolution class after the comment.

Evolution professor Stephen Kajiura said he doesn’t recall saying this. “She may have misinterpreted me,” Kajiura said. “You can’t ever say anything is absolute and final. We are biologists. We deal in statistics and probability.”

He also claims the class had not yet discussed evolution versus creationism.

An anonymous creationist in the class backed this up. “He doesn’t stop us from asking questions, but he’ll be prepared to argue from what he believes. Otherwise he wouldn’t be teaching the subject,” the student said.

The week before her outburst, Joyce Carr and her daughter grabbed lunch. Carr complained about Kajiura’s class. She had been enrolled in the class once before, but dropped it when her grandmother died. Her mother recommended she drop it again, but Carr needed it to graduate.

Once Carr’s breakdown began, the family thinks Kajiura should have realized something was wrong. “If someone would have acted differently, I wish it would have been the professor,” Joyce Carr said.

Kajiura said he realized the student was having a mental breakdown. “It was clearly a mental issue, which is why I wanted to not confront her,” he said. According to Kajiura, his teaching assistant had left to call police, so he wanted to keep Carr calm.

Joyce Carr mentioned evolution wasn’t the problem, it’s what Kajiura said about it. “When you say it’s been proven, she wanted to challenge it,” she said.

Nicole Carr said her sister researched how the theory of evolution was used to justify the Holocaust. She thinks that’s what led to her question. “She remembers what she said, but she says ‘I couldn’t control it,’” Joyce Carr said.

They say Carr couldn’t control her racist comments because of her condition. “When my sister is in her state, that’s where she goes,” Nicole Carr said.

They insist, however, Carr is not racist. “When she’s at home, her slurs were against black people,” Joyce Carr said “She’s called my mom names, a black b-i-t-c-h, a nigger,” Nicole Carr said.

“When you go in your manic phase, you go off. It may be sex, it may be race, it may be religion,” Nicole Carr said. “On a regular basis she wouldn’t say things like this.”

According to both women, this breakdown was Carr’s worst. “Have I seen it like that? No,” Joyce Carr said.

Nicole Carr, who says her sister has hit her and sworn at her during past breakdowns, agreed, “I hadn’t seen it with that much depth.”

Carr was released on March 23, three days after the breakdown. “We’re having a hard time having her not want to search everything being written about her,” Joyce Carr said.

Nicole added, “We’re trying to get her to watch TV, watch movies, but she’s been reading all this stuff.”

Carr’s family is also worried about the students. “Jonatha has a mental illness. It’s not their fault,” Joyce Carr said.

“We’re in an age when kids pull out their video cameras and their cell phones. It’s like the norm. […] As much as I don’t like [the video] out there, had it not been for it, I would have never known what went on in that classroom.”

The family says Jonatha will not try to receive secondary degrees from FAU. Still, they want to bring in a specialist to train students and faculty on how to deal with students with mental disorders.