Koben Henriksen could not buy a coat. He could not see his parents. He could not sleep in a motel.
He would tell his family that if he broke those rules, the voices — or as he called them “energy” — promised to punish him.
For more than a decade, Henriksen obeyed. He moved through Oregon cold, isolated, homeless.
It was a torturous existence he repeatedly tried to end. He ingested poison and sat on train tracks. He begged his father to buy him a gun, and when that failed, to take him to a European country where euthanasia for mental illness is legal. Last month, a detective called his father, Rick Henriksen, to tell him his son had tried to induce “suicide by cop” on Nov. 14 by threatening two Portland police officers with a knife in each hand.
On Dec. 8, Henriksen’s parents believe their son made another attempt to provoke a police officer into ending his life on the same street in southeast Portland.
This time, the officer did shoot — at least once in the head and once in the chest, according to Rick Henriksen, who spoke with a detective.
With those shots, Henriksen’s story became notable not only for how he lived — at the mercy of a debilitating mental illness he could find no relief from — but for how he died, as the Portland Police Bureau’s fifth fatal shooting this year.
Details about the shooting have been slow to emerge. The bare bones of the incident, pieced together through archived dispatch tape and police news releases, have officers dispatched to a call of a man brandishing a knife at vehicles, just east of Mall 205. Another officer chimed in, flagging the call as a potential “suicide by cop.” Less than seven minutes after being dispatched, one officer fatally fired the lethal shots, and another fired “foam-tipped projectiles,” meant to subdue a person from afar.
Two pocket knives belonging to Henriksen were found at the scene, according to police.
On Friday afternoon, Henriksen’s parents will hold a funeral for their 51-year-old son. His father, who splits his time between Troutdale and Mexico, where he works as a real estate developer, flew in from Cabo on Thursday. His mother, Candra Scott, flew in from San Francisco. They plan to cover their son’s face for the ceremony.
In Rick Henriksen’s mind, there is no doubt that Portland police officer Justin Raphael used excessive force when he fired the fatal shots.
“I can’t imagine any logical person that would come to a different conclusion on that, unless I’m missing something important here on how this all developed,” Henriksen said. “And I don’t think I am.”
But he said he wants to be clear: He is not making a blanket statement about police violence, particularly after two officers were successful in calming his son down last month after an alleged attempt to provoke officers into shooting him.
Henriksen’s parents reserved their harshest indictments for the country’s mental health system, which they believe should shoulder a large share of the blame for their son’s death.
Henriksen’s mother said her son’s schizophrenia started with heartbreak. Stressful events can trigger the illness in those already susceptible. And Scott said, for her son, that event was coming home one day at the age of 27 to find the girl he loved had disappeared.
“Boom, just like that overnight,” Scott said. “He just turned to stone. And his soul was just gone.”
Henriksen spiraled. He was no longer the charming, chatty boy she’d raised, but an erratic man she did not recognize. He cut off his friends and his family. He sold his house in San Francisco and moved to Mesquite, Nevada. He eventually lost his home and moved into his car — then lost the car.
The voices grew louder.
“I've never seen anyone suffer as much as he did. Constantly. He was never really ever out of pain, incredible pain, and there just was no relief,” Scott said. “These voices were demons.”
About a decade ago, Henriksen brought his debilitating demons to Oregon. He found some stability in East Portland for a period at a group home for people with mental illness. But schizophrenia continued to constrain him.
Last fall, when his father took him on a 10-day hiking trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the voices wouldn’t let him eat at most of the city’s restaurants or change out of the sweatpants he’d been wearing for a year and a half.
Shortly after the trip, Henriksen left the group home and returned to the street.
Psychotic breaks would land him in the hospital for stretches of time. Often, doctors would medicate him. Then, he’d be discharged and return to living on the streets. He’d throw out the medication because the voices, as he explained to his father, were spiritual, not biochemical.
Soon, he'd be back in the hospital.
His parents felt powerless to break the cycle. Their son would rarely talk to them because, he said, the voices would not allow it. And patient confidentiality laws meant the specialists their son saw couldn’t talk either, no matter how many times they called.
“It’s a terrible, terrible system where I, as a parent, can't talk to the psychologist unless Koben gives me permission,” Rick Henriksen said. “For the last few years, I haven't been able to talk to anybody. I can't talk to the county. I can't talk to a psychologist. I have no power whatsoever.”
Henriksen said he understands how these stringent rules would benefit patients with less severe mental illnesses, who are capable of managing their affairs without family members intervening. But for people like his son, who couldn’t make a decision about what clothes to purchase without voices threatening them, Henriksen said he doesn’t understand why the mental health system would bar a patient’s most powerful advocates from helping steer treatment.
In recent months, he watched helpless as his son became increasingly intent on ending his life.
“He said, ‘Dad, I can't keep going through this. If I can't live a normal life, I don't want to live,’” Rick Henriksen said. “And, at that particular point, given what he's been through for 20 years, I can understand how it feels.”
On Thursday evening, the police bureau released new details about the November incident that Henriksen’s father was told was an attempt at suicide by cop. After deescalating the incident, officers sent Henriksen to Providence Hospital for treatment.
The release also noted a similar incident over the summer where Henriksen told officers he needed to die, and they were his best bet. Then, too, police took Henriksen to Providence Hospital.
The point of releasing these details, Police Chief Danielle Outlaw wrote, was not to tarnish Henriksen’s character, but to highlight the failures of the mental health system, which “continues to recycle individuals rather than resolve the underlying issues.”
It’s a sentiment Rick Henriksen said he agrees with entirely. Less than a month after his son’s first alleged suicide by cop attempt and the follow-up treatment, he was back on the street, off medication and prepared to try again.
“It’s a system that is so, pardon the expression, rotten that it kills people,” Henriksen said.
“And that’s exactly what happened to my son.”
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Koben Henriksen's last name.