What’s your breaking point? Your spouses? Could you predict it? If trauma after trauma was piled upon you for years, would you believe it would be something as innocuous as a shoplifter being released again? That’s what broke Brian.
Brian served his country honorably in the Army before spending five years with the CIA in Russia and Somalia. During his time overseas, Brian had seen more lives lost than he expected, or ever imagined. Although there were many things, he had difficulty reconciling years after his service, his passion for life remained, as well as his desire to follow in his father’s footsteps as a police officer.
Angie and Brian met in 2009, his quiet, somewhat withdrawn personality was a result of some of the trauma he had endured, but with Angie, he was a different person. They loved each other deeply, bared their souls to each other and married in 2010. By 2011, both wanted to change careers; Brian followed his heart and in January 2012, he was employed with a rural sheriff’s department.
On their days off, Angie and Brian would golf in the morning and play cards in the afternoon. They sang karaoke together and Brian never missed a Red Sox game. Brian loved his job and spent four years in a county that was a classic close-knit law enforcement family. The officers supported each other, their families dined together, and each officer knew that they’d never be alone through a difficult time.
In 2015, a downturn in the local economy forced the department to lay off a number of deputies, Brian was one of them. Although he quickly found something in another county, he missed his close-knit law enforcement family. The new county had a high rate of incidents and the bond between the officers simply wasn’t there. Brian found himself without anyone to confide in, without this outlet, each call chipped away at his well-being.
As a diver in the CIA, Brian was confident that he could save the eight-year-old boy lost in the river’s sludge. The boy had been crossing the river with his mother and sister when his hand slipped from his mother’s grasp. Brian couldn’t wait for the county’s dive, so he stripped down and dove after the boy. He dove again and again while his sergeant yelled for him to get out of the river. When the boy’s body was recovered, he went with the body to the hospital. He was deeply affected by his inability to save the child but was afraid to show it.
Like too many departments, counseling was not offered to him nor did he pursue it. Having been with his department for such a short time, he didn’t feel the closeness he had with his previous department and thought if he asked for help, he’d be seen as weak. It wasn’t how he wanted to be perceived.
Brian replied to the suicide of a 23-year-old, he held back relatives while their loved one died in a fire, pulled kayakers from near drowning, and responded to gruesome car accidents. Angie could see the toll it was taking on Brian and wanted to return to their old department, to the support and love that carried them through these types of incidents.
Meanwhile, the economy in their prior county improved and positions were posted. Brian decided to remain where he was. The higher salary and opportunities for advancement seemed more important than the emotional support, Brian thought he could handle it. Angie wanted to go back but she couldn’t convince him. Despite this, their marriage remained strong.
On a Monday in July 2017, two kids were trapped in a flooded vehicle, one was quickly found dead and the other was washed away. Brian walked the river for days looking for the body.
On Saturday, Brian and Angie spent a typical day laughing, shopping, and eating barbeque ribs. Angie asked Brian if he’d like to go away for a few days, just the two of them, take a break. Brian wanted to walk the river. He wanted to find the body.
At approximately 3 p.m., Brian received a text from a prosecuting attorney, they’d cut a plea bargain with a repeat shoplifter; with time already served he’d get 90 days. The attorney asked the officers if they were okay with the deal, they weren’t. It didn’t matter, they had no say. The deal was done.
Brian’s mood changed immediately, he became angry and verbally lashed out at Angie. He went into the house and discharged his gun. Angie pleaded with Brian to put the gun away, but nothing got through to him. He was no longer the man she loved; he became someone else. By the time his best friend, John, arrived on the scene with the police, Brian’s mental state had deteriorated so severely that he didn’t recognize him.
While Angie was kept away from Brian, the police and John tried to get him to surrender this weapon. Standing alone on her front porch, Angie heard her husband fire a bullet into his head. While Angie was being driven to the hospital, Brian was being airlifted somewhere else. Standing alone by her husband’s bedside, Angie made the decision to take him off life support two days later.
Alone. The word a suicide widow becomes very familiar with. Alone. His department didn’t contact her. She was alone. Her health insurance was cancelled the day he died with no notification. It’s been two long months since his death, but Brian’s belongings were just returned by the department, they haven’t called to check on Angie and they’ve truly left her alone. His old department sent her a care package, took up a collection and let her know they’re there if she needs them. But she’s still alone. Floating like the bodies Brian tried so hard to recover. The aftermath of a suicide is not comforting, it’s not something people rally around to offer support and it’s still not something departments know how to handle. Brian was the 58th suicide in 2017, it’s time we learn to handle it.
Brian wasn’t just a veteran, an officer, and a husband. He was a person who loved fishing, but hated hunting, worked out regularly, loved a strong cup of coffee with the sports page each morning and left behind an English Mastiff name Papi. Brian always called Angie before he arrived at a dangerous incident to tell her he loved her in case anything happened. He was someone whose widow should not be alone, whose service should be honored and whose death should not go unnoticed.
A shoplifter. That was his breaking point. What’s yours?