Amtrak suspect: Had to fight a demon

Michael Williams appears in court via video for arraignment on Dec. 8, 2014.


NILES, Mich. (WOOD) — The man accused of stabbing four people on an Amtrak train told police that it started after a man he was talking to on the train “turned into a demon and he had to fight them,” according to court documents obtained by 24 Hour News 8.

“Michael Williams said he did not remember exactly what he did but that he did have a knife in his hand,” according to an affidavit for his arrest.

Williams, 44, of Saginaw, stabbed and cut the train’s conductor, Dontrol Bankhead, 40, twice in the head, twice in the neck and several times on his body, police said. He stabbed Bonnie Cleasby, 59, in the abdomen, Dan Stewart, 59, once in the chest, and Gayle VanHorst, 47, in the chest, according to the report.

All were taken to the hospital by ambulance.

A Niles police officer said he responded to the call for help on the train but was forced back out by the fleeing passengers. He then saw the suspect running at him with a “large hunting knife” with a 5-inch blade. The officer pulled out his Taser and struck Williams in the chest, “incapacitating” him and causing him to drop the knife as he fell to the floor.

Williams was arraigned Monday on four counts of assault with intent to murder. He’s being held on a $1 million bond.

Williams has a history of mental health problems dating back at least nine years, when he was petitioned for treatment after arming himself with a hammer and knives in his own home, according to court documents obtained by 24 Hour News 8.

(An undated courtesy photo of Williams while he was in the Army.)
(An undated courtesy photo of Williams while he was in the Army.)

His family has told 24 Hour News 8 that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the U.S. Army during Desert Storm.

But Saginaw County Probate Court records show he was suffering from paranoid delusions due to cocaine abuse and acute psychosis due to drug use when his family filed a petition to have him involuntarily committed in November 2005. The judge didn’t rule on the petition because he voluntarily went in for treatment, records show.

The record shows he was a military veteran.

According to the petition filled out by an aunt, Williams told his family “people are following him, people are under (the) house and jumping out windows and no one else can see them.”

His mother and sister said he was carrying a hammer and knives in a “threatening posture” in the house, “throwing objects” and digging, apparently in the crawl space, to find people.

The family called Saginaw police eight times in three days in November 2005. Police threatened to use a Taser to get him out from under the house, records show.

His cousin, Lawhawn Scroggins, of Utah, told 24 Hour News 8 that Williams called her on Tuesday — three days before the Amtrak stabbing — to say that people were following him and trying to kill him. She and Williams’ uncle, David Scroggins, said he suffers from PTSD.

He told her he was leaving Kentucky and was headed home to Saginaw to escape the people. He was working as a truck driver, she said.

“I don’t think it’s something he did intentionally,” his cousin said. “I think maybe something triggered him, maybe he was already like paranoid about something before. I don’t know what happened, what triggered him or what was going on.”

His uncle told 24 Hour News 8 that Williams had suffered from mental illness since leaving the military and that it worsened after the deaths of his mother and father.

He said he doesn’t believe Williams meant to hurt anybody. “He’s not that type of person,” he said.

The stabbings happened around 7 p.m. on Train 364 when it was heading towards Port Huron.

According to a news release, officers received a call from Amtrak regarding a passenger on board who was acting odd and becoming agitated. Amtrak asked officers to respond to the train station in Niles.

Train 364 is the Blue Water service that travels daily between Chicago and Port Huron, according to an Amtrak news release.

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