Daniel Dewitt was in high school when he started becoming reclusive and depressed. His mother Candy became concerned that something wasn't right, recalled Janice Wilkes, a friend of the Dewitt family.
He had his first "break" and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at 18. Since, Dewitt has been in and out of mental health facilities at least nine times and charged with harassment and battery. On Feb. 18, while searching for his imaginary girlfriend.
But before his first schizophrenic episode and subsequent deterioration into an almost perpetual state of delusion, Daniel Dewitt was a regular kid, according to friends and acquaintances. Those who spoke to Patch said they were shocked at the news of Dewitt's alleged involvement in the death of 67-year-old Peter Cukor, and that he had never been a violent person.
Jose Diaz has known Dewitt since second grade, attending the same schools and remaining close friends after high school. According to Diaz, Dewitt was an apt sportsman, but his real passion lay in digital music production.
"He especially liked making music," said Diaz, speaking of a hobby that centered around Dewitt's home studio set-up on his computer. According to family friends, Dewitt aspired to be a music producer and took classes to learn the skills and trade.
Even after Dewitt's delusional behavior began, Diaz was able to maintain a relationship with his friend and still do things like go out to eat and socialize, he says. "He'd be a cool person to hang out with," said Diaz. When Dewitt started talking about his imaginary girlfriend Zoey, Diaz would "go along with it."
"As a friend, the only thing I can do is hear him out," said Diaz. "I can't judge him or get mad at him."
In recent years, however, Dewitt's "ideas started changing," recalls Diaz. As a young adult, Dewitt wanted to spend more time alone, and lost interest in his former hobbies.
"He wasn't the same person any more," said Diaz. "He didn't have the same enthusiasm. He just started changing little by little."
But despite the more reclusive, distanced behavior, Diaz says Dewitt never seemed a threat. "Daniel was never like that — he was never violent," said Diaz. "He was a real caring guy. He was shy at times, so it was hard for him to show it."
Alice Lewis, whose daughter was in the same class as Daniel at St. Joseph's Elementary School in Alameda, remembers Dewitt as "sweet and cooperative" child. She says:
I was shocked when I read about the assault in the Chronicle, and heartbroken for both his parents and the family of the victim. It's so easy to think of "bad guys" are one dimensional. Most of the time, fortunately, we have no connection to either the victim or the criminal. It's much, much harder when you read a story like this, see a grainy photo of an alleged assailant on the news or in the paper, and all you can think of is a little boy in a Catholic school uniform working on an art project or eating a cupcake.
Janice Wilkes has been a friend of the Dewitt family since before they had children. She says of Daniel:
He was shy, sweet, always played well with others and had no problems. He was just the nicest kid. He was one of the shy ones, but he always participated and followed all the rules. Easy to care for. Loved sports and music.
Anna Carlson went to Alameda Hgh School with Dewitt:
I remember him as a nice, shy guy. I never knew he suffered from mental illness. I am surprised and saddened to hear of what has happened and at Daniel's involvement.
If you know Daniel DeWitt or his family, feel free to share your memories in the comments below.