(CNN) — A top Virginia politician lay in a Charlottesville hospital with multiple stab wounds Tuesday evening after what state police called a fight with his son, who appears to have killed himself shortly afterward.
A cousin found state Sen. Creigh Deeds, the 2009 Democratic nominee for governor, walking down a road near his home Tuesday morning, bleeding from multiple stab wounds to his head and chest, state police reported. State troopers who came to Deeds’ home in Millboro, about 150 miles west of Richmond, then found 24-year-old Austin “Gus” Deeds with a gunshot wound, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said. The troopers were unable to save him.
“Based on the evidence we have, we are looking at this as an attempted murder and suicide,” Geller told reporters Tuesday afternoon. No one else was in the house at the time of the altercation, and investigators are not seeking any other suspects, she said.
Deeds’ cousin called 911 and took the senator to a nearby farm, where a helicopter airlifted him to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Geller said. His condition was upgraded from critical to fair Tuesday afternoon, spokeswoman Angela Taylor said.
The senator was able to talk with investigators before he was flown to the hospital and afterward, Geller said.
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Deeds, 55, is well known in Virginia political circles. A Democrat, he ran for attorney general in 2005 and for governor in 2009, both times against Republican Bob McDonnell, who is now Virginia’s governor.
Gus Deeds withdrew from The College of William & Mary last month after being enrolled off-and-on since 2007, according to a statement from the school. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Tuesday that he had been given a mental health evaluation under an emergency custody order Monday but was released because no psychiatric bed could be located across a wide area of western Virginia, Dennis Cropper, executive director of the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, told the newspaper.
Geller said she was unable to comment on that report, citing medical privacy laws.
“Obviously, the motive and the absolute circumstances that led up to this altercation is still very much the focus of this investigation,” she said.
In a statement issued to other news organizations later, Cropper said he could not comment on a specific case. But he said that if a patient is brought in under an emergency custody order, they can be held for four hours for an examination — and if a doctor determines they need to be hospitalized, a bed has to be lined up within that period.
“In certain conditions, a two-hour extension is granted by a magistrate, but under no circumstances can a person be held beyond six hours involuntarily under an ECO (emergency custody order),” Cropper said. “We ask that the community respect the family’s privacy while they grieve the loss of their son and brother.”
Friend says family was trying to find help
Cory Jessee, who attended high school and college with Gus Deeds, said it was common knowledge that the family was trying to get the senator’s son help.
“He took a semester off to help his dad in the campaign. Then he came back to school, and he was pretty happy to be back in school,” Jessee said. “I didn’t know the details of his illness, but he seemed on the right side of it.”
Jessee also dismissed any suggestion that Gus Deeds had an alcohol problem despite reports that he had been arrested on a misdemeanor charge of underage alcohol possession in 2009.
“There was a party at someone’s house. He was one of a dozen kids who got a citation for drinking,” Jessee said, adding the incident was “blown out of proportion.”
Democratic state Sen. Chap Petersen, who has known the Deeds family for more than 15 years, said Deeds “had a lot of concerns about his son.”
“Just issues of dropping out of school and things of that nature,” Petersen said.
Deeds had moved his son in with him in recent months.
“That was a conscious choice to help his son get back on his feet, to get some stability in his life. I just know that Creigh made a commitment to his son in that way,” Petersen said.
“… As shocking as these events are today, the pieces kind of come into place now that we know a little bit more about the history.”
Virginia politicians react to stabbing
McDonnell, the governor, called Tuesday’s events “heartbreaking.”
“In this tough and sad time, our thoughts and prayers are with the Deeds family. The news from this morning is utterly heartbreaking,” he said. “Creigh Deeds is an exceptional and committed public servant who has always done what he believes is best for Virginia and who gives his all to public service. He cares deeply about Virginia, and the people of Virginia care deeply for him.”
And in a post on Twitter, Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe — who lost the Democratic nomination to Deeds in 2009 — said he and his wife, Dorothy, “are praying for the Deeds family at this difficult time.”
Also via Twitter, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner called the report “stunning news.”
“I am praying for @CreighDeeds and his family at this very, very difficult time,” he tweeted.
CNN’s Rose Arce contributed to this report.
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