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Woman who died by suicide at Anakeesta had crashed van at White House, tried repeatedly to climb compound fence

Jessica Ford crashed the vehicle near the White House gate, under the delusion that her children and husband were there.

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — The La Vergne, Tennessee, woman who died after intentionally falling from the Anakeesta chair lift last month had tried repeatedly to get into the White House, attempting to scale a fence and crashing her van at a security checkpoint, court records show.

Jessica Rhea Ford, 40, suffered an intense and longtime delusional disorder about the Executive Mansion in Washington, according to court documents.

Her decision to ram a White House security barrier in 2018 while bringing along a BB pistol drew international headlines and prompted White House authorities to briefly put the complex on lockdown.

Ford lived with her mother, her cousin, and her two youngest children in Middle Tennessee, according to court documents.

She jumped from the Anakeesta chair lift on July 28. Authorities found her body below the lift.

According to federal court records, Jessica Ford had been convinced at times that a man named James Burris was the U.S. president and that he lived in the White House.

In fact, Burris was her first true love, records state. They met when she was a teenager, but when she was in her 20s and they were still together, she started drinking large quantities of alcohol, using cocaine and using prescription opiates.

They later broke up. Burris later took his own life.

"This was her first relationship and had a deep impact on her," court records say.

She went on to marry twice and start her own family.

In 2011, she was diagnosed with delusional disorder. She tried to kick her addiction to substances, and started to get more involved in her church. She started attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and started caring for elderly church members.

After staying sober, she managed to hold down a job at a Waffle House where court documents described her as "well-respected" and a "hard-working employee."

As she battled mental illness, she came to believe she needed to go to the White House, that in fact, she had to rescue her children, records show.

In April 2017 she tried to jump the fence at the highly secure grounds. She was arrested and released the following day and was told to stay away from the White House.

Similar incidents happened in May 2017 and in July 2017, according to court documents.

The cases resulted in her being placed on supervision and she continued mental health treatment in Tennessee. Despite that, in February 2018, she drove to Washington D.C. in her van with a BB gun that resembled a Beretta handgun.

"She believed that if she had a weapon and the guards did not shoot her, that would prove that she was telling the truth — that her children were inside," court documents said. "She purposefully chose not to bring a real gun and did not load the BB gun. She had no desire to harm anyone and believed she would not be harmed because her children were in the White House, and Mr. Burris was the President."

She drove to the guard post and lowered her driver's side window. She ignored guards telling her to stop and drove into a wedge barrier at the security post.

Court documents said she had the BB gun in her hands but pointed it away from the guard. They grabbed it, eventually pulling her out and arresting her. Later, she told officers she was there to visit her husband, James Burris, and that he lived in the White House with her children.

An evaluation found that she was not competent to stand trial in March 2018, and she was set to a federal facility in Carswell, Texas, to be treated.

According to court documents, she reported that the medication helped her manage and recognize her delusional thoughts as irrational. But in June 2019, a supervision petition said she started to refuse her medication.

The lack of medication caused her to feel compelled to travel to Washington D.C. again, according to the petition. Her mother reached out to a Secret Service agent to say that she was acting bizarrely. The agent was aware of Ford's mental health history and reached out to the probation officer.

The officer then reached out to Ford, and they determined she was delusional. She said she felt compelled to go to Washington D.C. for the birthday of one of her children.

Her mother took away a set of car keys, according to the petition, and Ford was taken to a local hospital for crisis stabilization. In December 2019, the probation officer reported that she was continuing outpatient treatment.

But on July 28, 2022, she jumped from an Anakeesta chairlift and died. The park briefly shut down the chair lift.

"A tragic incident occurred [Thursday] evening. 911 was called immediately. Our hearts are with the family of the deceased," Anakeesta Vice President of Marketing and Sale Michele Canney said in a statement to 10News. 

RELATED: Woman dies at Anakeesta theme park in Gatlinburg after police say she jumped from a chairlift

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