Casey Bissell, courtesy of Nick Liggett via Facebook.

Casey Bissell was about to start a new chapter of his life. Having just finished finals at Berkeley City College, he was out with three roommates to celebrate the start of something new. Bissell had been accepted to UC Berkeley as transfer student and looked forward to taking the classes he needed to apply to law school.

But as Bissell and his companions—among them two of his oldest friends and his younger brother Nick D’Arcy—emerged from the Casanova Lounge where they were celebrating Saturday night, an encounter was waiting that would tragically end the 25-year-old’s life.

A man on the street, who by many accounts was highly disturbed and erratic, was shouting expletives to the crowd exiting the Casanova Lounge after last call. When the verbal altercation turned physical, Bissell and his friends tried to flee the scene, but the man came after them wielding a large kitchen knife. Bissell reportedly stepped between his brother and the attacker.

“What happened that night was an act of heroism,” said Taylor Hodgkin, one of Bissell’s roommates there that night and D’Arcy’s girlfriend, “I know that he would never let anything happen to his brother.”

For this protective behavior, Bissell suffered fatal chest wounds that he later died of at San Francisco General Hospital. Earlier this week, San Francisco Police Department detained two men in connection to the killing, and the investigation is ongoing.

According to those that knew him, Bissell’s final selfless act was the last one of a too-short life filled with kindness.

“He was gentle and would do anything for anyone,” said Hodgkin of the young man she’d known since 7th grade.

“I never saw Casey get angry or raise his voice to anybody,” said Dorothea Vaneckhardt, his paternal grandmother.

The son of Kevin Bissell, a general contractor in El Dorado Hills, and Wendy D’Arcy, a massage therapist in Placerville, Bissell became the eldest of four after his mother remarried and had more children with her second husband. According to friends, he was an easy-going caretaker of his younger siblings, 21-year-old Nick D’Arcy, 18-year-old Jenny, and 12-year-old Josh.

“He loved his family a lot,” said Hodgkin.

Vaneckhardt remembers lively games of Scrabble with her grandson, who would be quick to Google difficult words, always concerned about the veracity of spelling and definition. He’d also engage his grandmother in thoughtful political discussions. Recently, he would share the latest thing he’d learned from the economics classes he was taking at Folsom Lake College and later Berkeley City College.

“We knew he’d be a success because he was an excellent student,” said Vaneckhardt, who adds that Bissell was a straight A student.

In addition to his family, Bissell had a cultivated a second family of close-knit friends from his time at Cedar Springs Waldorf School in Placerville. A small school, with a senior class of just 17, Bissell remained in touch with most of his classmates well after graduation.

Earlier this year, Bissell, his brother, and two of his former classmates from Cedar Springs, Hodgkin and Quincy Adamo moved to Berkeley together. The group became a tight foursome, almost always together, always ready for an inside joke and knowing reference to the TV show New Girl. Young and in a new city, Hodgkin said their life kind of felt like a sitcom itself.

Bissell was often the one in the group pushing them to activities outdoors. An avid skier, he thrilled at the opportunities to take weekend trips back to the mountains close to where he grew up. Or, on a nice days, he would encourage trips to the beach.

More than anything, Bissell’s life felt full of promise.

“He was always dreaming real big, and he was really going to go after those dreams,” said Hodgkin.

In addition to his studies to go into law, or possibly the State Department, according to his grandmother, Bissell was also a writer. Vaneckhardt spoke fondly of a Tolkien-inspired novel called the Secrets of Winzer he had worked on since he was 16 and self-published on Amazon. His friends say that Bissell often spoke of going back to it, editing it, and even writing a sequel.

According to his mother, Wendy D’Arcy, almost everything appeared to be going right in her son’s life.

“He was very happy, he was so excited to be moving onto the next phase,” she said.

His grandmother says that there’s no immediate plans for his funeral but that some of his ashes will be scattered in a ceremony in Butte Meadows, “a place in the mountains Casey loved.”

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Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top of Bernal Hill.

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  2. The news articles at Akismo and Nahndro link to contain very few details, so it is unclear whether they are consistent or inconsistent with MissionLocal’s coverage, but ti does seem like there is more information would be helpful.

  3. I’m not sure what this has to do with mental illness. This young man was stabbed during a fight with another group. Police responded to reports of a fight. They arrived and found Bissell stabbed. They later arrested to young men in connection with the stabbing. No mental illness. No crazy guy yelling at people, just a fight between two groups of young men.

    See actual news article:

    How can Mission Local post such-misinformation??

  4. This article is full erroneous information. 1) it wasn’t a singular mentally ill guy hurling expletives at a crowd that started the altercation.

    This was a fight between two groups. See the following several articles that describe in detail a violent fight between two groups of youths. Two people have been arrested for the stabbing, not one mentally ill guy but two guys who stabbed this man during a confrontation.

    This information drastically changes the story from “hero saves brother’ to a common story of reckless young men getting into confrontation that ends up with someone getting killed.

  5. RIP Casey. You were a sweet guy with such a good heart. This news shocked me. I’m sorry the world is without you. Your family is in my thoughts.

  6. After working in the Mission for many many years, I am not surprised by this at all. The amount of violent, mentally unstable homeless that wander around the street is absolutely insane. I’ve been stabbed, sexually assaulted, and robbed by crazy drugged-out psychos roaming around, and I haven’t been back to the neighborhood since I quit working there. I’m probably never going back. Fuck the Mission.

  7. If you live in the neighborhood, please write David Campos to find out what he plans to do about making sure people are safe. We are not doing enough city wide to combat mental health issues, and this kid should not have died because of our inaction.

  8. Blame sup campos. He’s too busy drafting grandios anti landlord ordinances (that get over turned as unconstitutional by superior court btw) than focus any attention to the rampant violence in the mission. Crooks, druggies and robbers know this and basically act with impunity, especially as more wealth has come into the neighborhood. Campos knows this and sees it as his way of getting back at gentrifiers. Campos’ willful negligence makes him a total d-bag.

    1. Yup 100% correct. How did it get from “crazy guy hurling expletives’ to “altercation”? These kids obviously engaged him, and while its not their fault, it was a mistake.

      Always best to just stay away and avoid. Walk away. Eventually I guess they did but it was too late.

  9. I knew this young man and his family are dear friends. The loss is unbearable. The world is dimmer without his presence. So surreal… hard to fathom… so unnecessary and tragic. Many hearts breaking and minds in shock… a permanent, deep scar.

  10. agree with previous post. we have no resources for mental illness and many seriously mentally ill people roam the streets often self medicating on street drugs with such disastrous consequences.How tragic.

  11. Heart breaking totally. Good smart kid from good family going good places.
    Am praying for them all from New Zealand.
    Such a waste of such a good guy. Such a shame.

  12. This is what happens when we just let the mentally ill roam (and sleep on) our streets freely. They should be re-institutionalized. We can thank Ronald Reagan for our homeless problem and his mis-guided decision to kick everyone out of the mental institutions and onto the street.

    Haven’t we seen enough to know that this policy choice was a failure? How many more people need to die before we pick up the courage to return to a saner, safer, and kinder policy and give the mentally ill the care (and potentially confinement) that they need?

    1. You couldn’t be more right about this. I believe even Reagan thought this was a mistake later in his life. Why haven’t we reversed it?!

    2. Someone will soon reply claiming it was the Democrats and the ACLU who actually did it. More insane legacy courtesy of Reagan.

      1. Well yes, they will reply that it was the Democrats and the ACLU because that is accurate. If you know anything about the history of this, there was not left or Democratic opposition to Reagan’s move. Nor do you see those folks advocating for going back to institutionalizing these people — just the opposite. So while there is a certain smugness in blaming Reagan, it is really just hypocrisy.

        1. Actually, you couldn’t be further from the truth. However, the goal isn’t to just “lock ’em and leave ’em”. That is expensive, as the prison system is showing. In fact, most end up in prison (i.e. what will happen with this fellow). The more appropriate path is making sure that the stigma is lifted (100 years ago your family would disown you and toss you to an institution to die) which will lead to more appropriate studies, and that treatment is available. The last part is the most important, as it means making sure mental health issues are not treated as a pre-existing condition so that those can be treated properly and return to being effective members of society (huge win for EVERYONE, trust me). Unfortunately, some folks will never get the needed treatment (whether their own doing, or the doing of others). I’m not sure how that problem will be solved. It probably won’t. But there are strides to rectify the situation as a whole. Can’t say Reagan’s decision was “good”, but it might have forced society to look for a better solution. (The history of “mental institutions” is plagued with really horrendous pain and suffering. Not a place you would want to see a loved one go for ANY length of time…)

          1. And by my further from the truth comment, I am referring to “Nor do you see those folks advocating for going back to institutionalizing these people — just the opposite. So while there is a certain smugness in blaming Reagan, it is really just hypocrisy.”

            The media just doesn’t cover it, unless large loss of life is involved… Apparently warm cozies make poor selling stories in America.

          2. @Donald: I am not saying that no one has thoughts about how mentally ill people should be treated (as you propose). But no one is proposing going back to widespread, forced institutionalization; and even modest proposals, such as Laura’s Law, are met with strong opposition from the left.
            The point is that blaming Reagan is just silly and IS hypocritical because no one is proposing repealing the LPS Act — which was passed unanimously.
            Obviously, this is a difficult issue. But blaming Reagan is just an example of partisan smugness.

      2. @Dan: BTW, if you care about facts, you might read this NYT articles that notes the number institutionalized mentally ill patients peaked at 37.5 K under Edmund G. Brown, was only 22K when Reagan took office and continued to decline under Jerry Brown. (
        Also, the Lanterman–Petris–Short Act that Reagan signed was bi-partisan.
        So, you have a choice — you can either inform yourself about the real background on this complicated issue. Or you can continue to mindlessly blame Reagan for everything.

      3. Reagan had little to do with it, at least nationally speaking. States were facing huge percentages of their budget spent on institutionalization (I believe in New York State it was > 30%), while simultaneously facing enormous criticism for the treatment of the mentally ill while in these facilities. Then thorazine came on the market and all of the states — certainly not just California — saw it as an attractive option to deinstitutionalize.

        I’m also a card carrying member of the ACLU and I must say that our policy on “protecting the rights of the mentally ill’ is just awful. The ACLU has whittled away at laws that make it easier for ED docs and psychiatrists to involuntarily hospitalize patients.

        It’s not Reagan’s fault, it’s not the ACLU’s fault — its all (was?) part of a societal effort to get away from paying for the cost of institutionalization or, at this point, mere hospitalization. Sadly, this decision has come at great costs to the mentally ill themselves, their families and, of course, victims of incidents like these.

    3. Reagan was last governor in 1975. If there was an easy solution, I would think the democrats would have overridden the choices made almost 40 years ago. They do have basically every statewide office, the assembly and senate in their control.