Is there still hope? Life after the suicide of a loved one, pt 3
This is the third of a four part series about correctional suicide
Editor's Note: This piece is continued from last week's part 2; if you haven't read it, please check it out here.
It seemed that Jennifer had accepted that there was life after the suicide of her late husband. All appearances were she was well adjusted and happy in every aspect of her life.
On May 20th, 2013 I left for work at about 5 am, which was normal. As usual, I kissed Jennifer before I left that day, and told her I loved her. Jennifer told me she loved me, and crawled back under the covers. Jennifer would get up later that day to take the kids to school and get ready for work. I had left my truck at the house and asked Jennifer to drive it that day, as we had been shooting that weekend, and I had not had a chance to clean the shells and shooting gear out of the back. The car was also cheaper on gas, and I would return the car to her after work, and take the truck for the rest of the day.
At about 10:30 that morning, I called Jennifer’s cell phone and spoke to her for a few minutes. I told her how tired I was, and how I was looking forward to ending a busy day by cuddling on the couch with her. Jennifer sounded very upbeat, and told me she loved me very much. That was the last time I spoke to her.
Nothing seemed unusual about the rest of the work day. Jennifer had to work at noon, so I knew she would not be home when I got there. The boys were home from school early that day, and were home when I arrived. I came in the house, still in uniform, and as is my routine, went to the bedroom to change.
As I walked in the room, I threw my duty belt in the closet, took off my uniform shirt and glanced at the made bed. On top of the bed was a small pile of papers and Jennifer’s perfume sitting atop them. Something was wrong. I walked to the papers and began to read what would be a six-page suicide letter. The letter started: “Barry, I am very sorry, and I love you more than ANYTHING. You are the most wonderful man I have ever met, and the best husband in the world. Please raise the boys to be exactly like you; this has nothing to do with you, but with me.”
The letter continued for several pages along the same lines. I quickly skipped to the last page. In the last page Jennifer expressed her last wishes. Among them, to be cremated, and to have her remains spread with her late husband. She also indicated I could find her at a beach close to the house.
I scanned the room and went into investigator mode. I noticed her prescription bottle of sleeping pills was gone, as was a picture of us. My heart jumped and raced as I checked the safe. My off duty weapon, holster, and badge were gone. I carried a .38 snub off duty at all times, and my badge around a lanyard I wore around my neck. Jennifer knew that I would be reaching for the drawer as soon as I changed. It was routine for me to put on my weapon before leaving the house, and I had planned to pick up the truck from her immediately after work.
My life stopped. The kids were curious why I was in such a hurry, but I gave them no clue of what had happened yet. I texted and tried to call Jenn as I ran out the door. I told the boys I had an emergency and would be back soon. I tucked the note in my pocket and ran to the car. No answer from Jennifer was not good. Jennifer was always quick to answer calls or texts from me. I called her work. Her coworker explained that Jennifer had called in sick. Jennifer had told her boss that she wanted a day off with me, and was not feeling well.
I went to the beach where she said she would be, hoping it was not too late. I could not find her. I frantically searched for about 10 minutes. I picked up my phone and called 911. I explained everything to the dispatcher. I looked at my watch, it was 1446 hours. I called all of her friends to see if they had heard from Jennifer, but no luck. No one had heard from or seen Jennifer since early that morning when she texted a friend and had a normal conversation. Jennifer’s friend said there seemed to be nothing wrong with her, and they did not talk about anything distressing.
I called Jennifer’s family, and my family, who were on vacation overseas, visiting relatives. Everyone was shocked. I immediately made flyers, posted on social sites, and began calling news agencies to run a picture of her. After some reflection I knew that if Jennifer had carried out her death, she would not want me to be the one to find her, and the beach directions was an attempt to keep me from finding her.
Unfortunately, Jennifer had a four wheel drive vehicle, and like myself, was an experienced off roader. The search would be hard. I held out hope for about three days that she was hiding with a friend and had changed her mind, but as time ticked away, I knew she was gone. After three weeks of frantic searching, two mountain bikers discovered her vehicle on the side of a mountain road, just a few miles from where I had searched just days before. I could not make it further up the road because of my vehicle. Police, search and rescue, myself and volunteers had not been able to locate her for over 3 weeks.
The day she was found, I was sitting in my living room, and got a weird feeling in my stomach. It was about 2300 hours. There was a knock at the door. Outside I saw a Sheriff’s vehicle. Any hope I had left me that instant. I carefully opened the door to reveal a young rookie deputy standing uncomfortably on my porch. He confirmed my identity the best he could. His voice cracked as he told me that Jennifer had been located. I asked him if she was okay. He said nothing, but just looked at me, then down at the ground. I knew enough. The deputy told me to call the detective on the case on his cell, as he was on scene.
I apologized to the deputy for having to bring me this news and shut the door. I fell to my knees, and could not get off the ground for a few minutes. All my energy had left my body. Trembling, I called my parents to let them know. I assured them I was okay, and prepared for what I had to face now. My parents were on the road, on the way back home when I called them. The house was eerily quiet. There were no sounds except the sounds of my quiet sobbing.
I called the detective and got some more details. Jennifer had been located outside of the vehicle. Autopsies later confirmed she had died of a fatal gunshot to the head. It was suspected Jennifer had been dead since before I made it home from work that fateful first day she went missing. Another note had been recovered at the scene, relaying the same emotions as the first. There were empty alcohol containers in the car, and her phone was intact inside. With her were our picture, my badge, and the weapon.
I called Jennifer’s mother and told her the news. I simply told her “Jennifer is gone, Gina… I am so sorry.” I spoke to her dad and explained the best I could the details I knew at the time.
I spent the next six hours calling all of her family and friends to give them the news. Many people were also following the story on Facebook, where I was posting daily updates and pleas for help. To this day you can go back to my Facebook page and follow the story from beginning to tragic end.
Over the next few weeks I learned more details of her death, many of which I wish I never knew. The condition of her remains were not good. The autopsy indicated that she died instantly, which was a relief. My life felt over. I had quietly reserved myself to raising the kids until they were out on their own, and then quietly existing as long as God made me stay on this planet.
What I did not discover until months later was that Jennifer was also very ill. Drinking had caught up to her, and she was facing a tough battle against liver failure. I now believe she did not want to put us all through that; along with the pain of finding Phillip, is what caused her death.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. They can provide anonymous support.