By Susy Solis, Robbie Owens & Carol Cavazos, CBS 11 News
smu crane Crane Suspects Mother Says Son Was Mentally Ill

(Photo credit CBSDFW.COM)

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Ollie May Thomas says she knew it was her son dangling from a tower crane when she saw him on the news.

She recognized the clothing –– he was wearing that outfit when he left her home on Friday night. The suspect’s body shape confirmed her suspicions.

When detectives from Dallas Police called to tell her that her son, 44-year-old Lee Dale Thomas Jr., had fallen from a 150 ft. crane, she said she was not surprised.  She had watched the coverage and saw her son’s last moments as he dangled from the crane.

“I feel real empty,” she said. “Feeling I wished I could have did something more, but he wasn’t a baby and I couldn’t pick him up.”

Thomas said there is a history of mental illness in her family.

Lee Dale Thomas Jr.’s grandfather committed suicide and his father was a paranoid schizophrenic, she said.

Thomas said her son began using drugs at an early age and was imprisoned on two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for killing his girlfriend’s mother.

He was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in 1991 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to Dallas County records. He was charged with the same thing in 1998 and was sentenced to four years.

He finished his sentence in October 2004.

lee dale thomas jr Crane Suspects Mother Says Son Was Mentally Ill

Lee Dale Thomas Jr., 44, climbed up a crane near SMU on May 28, triggering a 14 hour standoff that ended with his death. (Credit: Dallas County)

When he left prison, he sought treatment for his mental illness, with her by his side. But after two months on medication, he quit taking the pills.

“He said he didn’t like the way the medication made him feel,” Thomas said.

From then on, she said, he worked odd jobs and stayed at her home periodically.

Friday night she said he had a different look and demeanor than normal.

“In his eyes, it didn’t look like he cared about nothing at all,” she said.

He left wearing a red shirt and black pants.

“I’ll see you when I see you,” were the last words he said to her.

Thomas turned on the news Monday to see a man in a stand off with police inside a crane on the SMU campus.

“I said, ‘that person has got to be sick up there. They are going sweat to death,’” she said.

Thousands were drawn to the coverage of a man who had barricaded himself inside a tower crane, claiming to have a gun and threatening to use it.

At a news conference Tuesday, Assistant Chief Thomas Lawrence confirmed Thomas did not have a gun.

The standoff lasted for well over 12 hours. Lawrence said officers had tried to talk Thomas down for much of the standoff, but at about midnight he stopped responding.

Lawrence said they sent officers up the crane, but they never got close enough to talk to him. Thomas dangled from the crane before he fell to his death, 150 feet below.

“He ended up getting into a position where he slipped and was hanging from the window or the window wipers,” Lawrence explained.

Questions have now been raised on if SMU could have done anything to keep Thomas out.  The university says it secured the site with barricades, fencing, and signs. But they say nothing could hold back someone determined on destruction.  As for who bears the ultimate responsibility for security on the construction site, SMU said they would be looking into it.