Charles Bishop loved “Star Trek” and Tom Clancy novels. He worried about learning how to drive, and had only been on one date. He rarely mentioned the father he never knew, but learned a love of flying from his mother’s best friend, a man he considered a father figure.
In volumes of recently filed court records, those are some of the ordinary details from the life of a 15-year-old boy that make an enduring mystery of why he stole a small airplane and crashed it into a Tampa skyscraper, leaving a suicide note sympathetic to Osama bin Laden.
His mother and grandmother have filed a $70 million Accutane lawsuit against the makers of the acne drug, blaming it for sparking his irrational act in January 2002.
The drug company denies Accutane is linked to suicide, but it does warn doctors and users to watch for suicidal behavior.
In hours of depositions, Bishop’s mother, grandmother and the dermatologist who prescribed him Accutane about eight months before Bishop’s death said they saw no indications of impending suicide.
His doctor testified he was so vigilant in watching for signs of depression and aggression that he once called the boy’s mother, Julia Bishop, because he’d overheard a minor argument between Charles and his grandmother.
Grandmother Karen Johnson said they too were watching out for sudden mood swings after initial concerns about Accutane. But months after he began taking the drug, her grandson appeared to be nothing more than a teenager with a bright future who had even spent part of his winter school break studying for upcoming finals.
“Charles loved his mother. Charles loved me,” Johnson said in a November deposition filed last month in U.S. District Court. “He was happy with either one of us. He was a remarkably resilient, cheerful, adaptable child.”
Attorneys for Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., the makers of Accutane, are asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit before trial. No hearing date has been set and the case has been tentatively set for trial in November.
Carolyn Glynn, a spokeswoman for Hoffmann-LaRoche, declined to comment on the court filings, citing a company policy of not doing so in any legal case.
The Food and Drug Administration said it has 234 reports of suicide among Accutane users worldwide from 1982 to December 2003; that includes 179 in the United States. An estimated 13 million patients have used Accutane since its debut in 1982.
Charles Bishop began using the drug in April 2001, eight months before his suicide.
Attorneys in the civil lawsuit combed through the boy’s personal effects, e-mails, junior high yearbooks and even notepad doodles looking for clues.
Julia Bishop and Johnson answered questions for more than 16 hours, the most extensive questioning of the boy’s family since the tragedy. The mother and grandmother said they wanted to dispel law enforcement’s characterization of Charles as a troubled loner, which for them evoked images of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris and their 1999 massacre at Columbine High School.
The National Mental Health Association says four out of five teenagers who commit suicide show warning signs, such as a decline in school performance, writing about death or noticeable changes in eating and sleeping patterns.
But Michael Ryan, the Fort Lauderdale Accutane attorney who represents the Bishop family, said when Accutane is in the mix, there are often no warning signs.
Ryan has filed more than 30 lawsuits against the makers of Accutane on behalf of people who suffered bad Accutane side effects, including about a half-dozen brought by families of those who committed suicide.
“Most of the suicides I have seen there have been no warning, even in retrospect,” Ryan said.
The drug company’s attorneys are focusing on Bishop’s family history in the case.
Charles Bishop had no history of psychiatric problems and his mother testified the only psychiatric medication he’d taken was for mild attention deficit disorder when he was about 9 years old. He eventually outgrew the condition, his mother told attorneys.
But Julia Bishop and the boy’s father had attempted suicide when they were teenagers. Julia Bishop had used anti-depressant medications through the years.
Dermatologist Anjali H. Singh, who treated Charles Bishop, said the family never disclosed Julia Bishop’s psychological history when he prescribed Charles Bishop Accutane in April 2001 and then gradually upped his dose from 10 milligrams to 60 milligrams over the eight months.
Ryan criticized Hoffmann-LaRoche attorneys for focusing on extended family histories in such lawsuits.
“What Roche has done is put families under the microscope,” he said. “They have examined families and go back generations in a way no family in America could survive.”
Johnson told attorneys her daughter is haunted by questions of what could have been done differently. While by all accounts a devoted mother, Julia Bishop moved frequently hoping to find better jobs to support her son.
When asked by the drug company’s attorney what they wish they might have done differently, Johnson replied, “We wished he’d never gone on Accutane.”