It was 11:30 P.M. on Sunday when I checked my phone for the last time before going to sleep. I had a Facebook message from a graphic designer I used to work with at The San Diego Union-Tribune, about my former intern, Anna Conkey.
He asked if she was the same woman who had been arrested earlier that day for waving a gun around a church while holding her 10-month-old baby. Anna was now 31.
I have written books and stories about people who commit these sorts of crimes, but I've never met one beforehand. A friend said this was my Ann Rule-Ted Bundy moment
I immediately checked her Facebook page and saw that someone had posted a news story about the incident. Right below that was one Anna posted at a telltale 4:08 A.M., about eight hours before the church incident: "'For the idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain. Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd.' Zech. 10:2"
The post linked to one of her “Heavenly Frequency” YouTube videos, titled, “God is Light and Darkness, plus warning about ‘Rapture’," which has since gotten 12,792 views. She’s been experiencing the Rapture, she says, since January 12, which gives you an idea of how long this episode has been going on. Clearly, she’s been manic and unable to sleep or she wouldn’t be posting videos at 4:08 in the morning.
I was shocked. Anna had threatened to blow up a school building where 100 people were attending a church service, held a gun to the head of her own baby, wrestled with parishioners and police who tackled her to the ground when she tried to retrieve the gun? And she was now in jail? How could this be?
As I processed the news, I looked her up on the sheriff’s department’s “Who’s In Jail” website and saw that she was being held at Las Colinas Women’s Jail on six felonies and two misdemeanors. Wow. So it was really true.
This sweet, seemingly gentle, but ambitious SDSU journalism student had sat at my dining room table several times as we looked up murder cases online, tasks to help me and also teach her a few things about research. And five years later, she’s calling herself a prophet and telling everyone in a church, “You’re all going to die!”
I didn’t doubt that it had happened, but it was really hard for me to accept. Anna had seemed capable enough, and stable. She was recommended to me by a friend and former newspaper colleague who was her journalism professor.
We didn’t work together that long because she was very busy, taking four or five classes, raising her first baby, a daughter who is now five, and she was talked about putting even more on her plate so she could graduate. I cautioned her not to overdo it, but she seemed confident she could handle it all, with the help of her husband. She had already served in the U.S. Navy, she explained, and he was still active military.
I believed at the time that she was tough, probably even tougher because of her military training. The subsequent news stories showed her dressed up in camouflage, looking rather comfortable as she held in her arms a rather large gun that looked almost as tall as she was.
It turned out that after working for me, she got other internships, wrote commentaries for the UT, contributed to KPBS, and worked part-time for the local NBC affiliate. I’d heard that her resume said she’d helped research my books, which, let’s just say, was a real stretch. She’d helped me identify some murder cases for ME to research. I did tell her she could call herself my “assistant,” because it sounded better than intern, and because she did some other sorts of tasks for me as well. So, hoping it was just sloppy language, and not intentionally misleading, I let it go.
But now I’m wondering, hmmm, was this an early sign of the delusions of grandeur she has shown recently? Did she overdo and overstress herself to the point of psychosis? Mothers of newborn babies are known not to get enough sleep, and some folks on my FB page have suggested that she could have post-partum psychosis. I looked it up. It’s rare, and it can manifest itself as religious fervor. Although I have a psychology degree, I’m not a psychiatrist, but to me, this seems pretty severe to be just that. First thing that came to my mind, and a friend who was married to someone with bipolar disorder agreed, was that she was having a manic bipolar episode, or she had schizophrenia, although that usually shows itself sooner than the early thirties.
Whatever the cause, I have not been able to stop thinking about Anna, and I keep raising more unanswered questions. Her children were initially taken to the Polinsky Children’s Center for abused, neglected and abandoned children, which I used to cover when I was an investigative reporter for the U-T. Where was her family, where was her husband? Was she all alone in all this? Did anyone notice this behavior and try to help her? Did she refuse? Had she been diagnosed with one of these conditions and was she off her meds?
I wondered if I should go visit her in jail. I wanted to see what had happened to her, help her in some way. She shouldn’t have to face this all alone. It seemed like she’d had a psychotic break of some sort, and she needed help, not prison time. Then I saw a post by one of her friends that she wasn’t allowed visitors.
One question did get answered today. I just saw in a story that her husband was deployed on the East Coast when all this happened. I’m not sure if he’s back by now or not, because he hasn’t really been mentioned except in a very cursory way.
I have to wonder how long this geographical separation has been going on, and whether that contributed to her state of mind. Some folks have suggested that she could be suffering from PTSD from her military experience, which was quite some years ago now, or that she was attempting suicide-by-police. I don’t know much about her Navy work history, but I believe it involved journalism. It also doesn’t seem that she was lucid enough to make the suicide-by-cop choice, let alone go and get herself any therapy, as another FB friend suggested.
It seems that she really does consider herself a prophet. As one person on her FB page asked, how do we know she’s not one? Well, I’m not even going to touch that one.
Anna didn’t actually hurt anyone, because as it turned out, her gun wasn't loaded, and police found no bombs during a search of her house in Bonita. Police did find ammunition in the home, however, and with her military experience, she clearly knew how to use the gun and to load it. She may have also had explosives training, thus the bomb threat.
Watching the news closely for her arraignment, I saw on TV that she had pleaded not guilty on nine charges, eight of which were felonies, and her bail was set at $1 million.
This is where the case gets even weirder. Apparently, she sent a tip to the NBC station where she used to work, or still works, I’m not entirely sure, and she also called 911 – all before she entered the church service. She reported that a woman with a gun was entering the church; she also reported a bomb threat. Meanwhile, her five-year-old daughter was at a different church nearby. No details on that, but did Anna leave her daughter there alone?
So Anna basically called police AND the media to report her actions before she even committed them. I'm not sure why she would do that, unless her psyche has split, which can happen after traumatic situations. The official name for it is dissociative disorder, and it was the claim of former FBI undercover agent Gene Bennett, after he threatened to blow up his wife and her minister in a church, which I wrote about in my book TWISTED TRIANGLE. The prosecution (and jury), however, said Bennett was faking it. I don't think Anna was doing any such thing. Don't ask me if I ever talked to Anna about that book, because I don't remember.
It was also announced that there is now a restraining order in place to protect her two kids and the pastor from her, and that her kids are now with family. Well, that’s a relief.
The TV stories showed her sitting in court in one of those side box-like rooms, where she was behind a glass partition, looking tired and dazed. Nothing like the smiling pretty woman I saw in person, or whom you can see now on her FB page, where friends and strangers are openly discussing her motives and state of mind. Mostly, people are being very sympathetic.
The prosecutor on her case has already said in court that mental health issues are clearly at play here. One of my law enforcement friends said there is a law in place that allows for pre-trial diversion of cases where mental health disorders are an issue. But, she asked, does that make you or me feel any more safe? Next time, as some folks have pointed out, Anna could take a loaded gun and actually shoot someone.
But thankfully, no one was hurt, including her children.
Her next court date, which I imagine is her preliminary hearing, is May 3. Her neighbors say they are as shocked and surprised by this behavior as I am. Anna faces at least 23 years in prison, but no matter what happens, her life is forever changed. And I hope she gets the help that she clearly so desperately needs.
Thanks for reading my blog.