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A Man Having a Mental Breakdown Aimed a Gun at a Therapist. What Happened Next Saved 5 Lives

A Man Having a Mental Breakdown Aimed a Gun at a Therapist. What Happened Next Saved 5 Lives

On June 25, 1997, Dr. Harvey Rosenstock, a Houston psychiatrist, was getting ready to leave his office when he noticed a nervous young man sitting in his waiting room.

The mysterious man had “wide open, bulging, wild eyes,” recalls Rosenstock, who says the man barged into his office, sat down at his desk, took out a loaded 9 mm pistol — and pointed it at him.

“There’s a bullet in the chamber,” the man, Daniel Shepley, said as he flipped the gun back on himself and then again at Rosenstock, close enough that the doctor could have bitten the muzzle.

It was the most frightening moment of Rosenstock’s life. But instead of responding with fear, he found compassion.

“He didn’t come to my office to rob me — in my mind, this was a psychotic way of asking for help,” Rosenstock tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “So I said to him, ‘I can see how depressed you really are, but I do my best work with the pistol in the satchel pointing downward to the floor.'”

It was then that everything changed for Shepley, who was then an unmarried 33-year-old engineer suffering from severe, suicidal depression and homicidal anger — none of it previously diagnosed.

For more on the unexpected friendship between Daniel Shepley and Dr. Harvey Rosenstock, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.

“If he had not agreed to help me, I would have killed him, and I would have killed myself, of that I am 100 percent certain,” says Shepley, who after he’d put down the gun, began the most important therapy session of his life.

Shepley said that for years, he’d felt a “blackness, this dark feeling over me.” But he had ignored the symptoms, which included paranoid delusions, including the belief that he’d been cheated out of a job he’d applied for with the CIA. His delusions made him want to kill certain people, he says.

According to Rosenstock, who has seen thousands of troubled patients in his career, “There are five people, in my calculation, in Houston that are alive today that do not have the slightest idea that they might not be.”

But the doctor truly believed after their first hour-long session that Shepley didn’t really intend to kill anyone, and that his acute paranoid psychosis — his official diagnosis — could be cured with the right combination of therapy and medication.

Harvey Rosenstock and Daniel Shepley

Harvey Rosenstock and Daniel Shepley
Harvey Rosenstock and Daniel Shepley
| Credit: Marie D. De Jesus

“I could appreciate the goodness in this guy that could have been lost to the world, because had things gone the other way, he’d be behind bars or he’d have died by suicide, and we would have lost, really, a good person,” he says.

After that initial session, Shepley, who took the gun home with him, says he “didn’t know if I would be pulled over or if a SWAT team would break down my door to arrest me for pointing a gun at home.”

He adds: “I didn’t know if [Rosenstock] was going to be my enemy or my friend.”

It would take years for Shepley to realize — and trust— that he had Rosenstock in his corner.

Today, Shepley, 58, who has two engineering degrees and an MBA, is a contract specialist with the U.S. Navy. In 2019, moved to Millersburg, Pa., to care for his sick parents.

“My life today is family,” says Shepley, who wrote with Rosenstock a fictionalized account of their journey in the book The Other Side of Sanity. “He’s like a father figure to me. He’s my mentor. This is a relationship based on mutual trust, respect, and love. He is definitely a keeper.”