To the Editor:
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, 41,149 lives were taken in 2013 from suicide. According to the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, people who kill themselves exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. The more warning signs, the greater the risk!
If a person talks about:
- Killing themselves
- Having no reason to live
- Being a burden to others
- Feeling trapped
- Unbearable pain
A person’s suicide risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased, especially if it’s related to a painful event, loss, or change:
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Looking for a way to kill one’s self, such as searching online for materials or means
- Acting recklessly
- Withdrawing from activities
- Isolating from family and friends
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Giving away prized possessions
People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:
- Loss of interest
These are shocking. I should know. I was married to a man, who was smart, driven, and someone who, on the outside, had a very laid-back demeanor, and was extremely confident. I had known this man for 13 years. I was married to him for three before he ended his own life. You might be very familiar with this man. There have been some who have taken to the Internet to blog about him and his situation, and there has been some press about him over the last 3.5 years since his passing. Sadly, there have been a number of half-truths and pointing of fingers, and that process has defamed the characters of some citizens and a respectable city.
I am not writing to point fingers, or to publicly humiliate anyone. I want to raise awareness in hopes it helps someone else—awareness about Alex Heitman and what he experienced. I will also add that the information that I am providing is not new information and has been shared with all parties involved at one point or another since Alex’s passing.
Alex was very excited and loved the challenge of his new position even though at times it was stressful, working for the Oak Ridge School system. He enjoyed the people he worked with, and he liked working in Oak Ridge.
Alex had been under a lot of stress during the school district’s audit. He would always strive for perfection because he knew what the consequences could be if he would make a mistake on the audit. He had also been more distracted during this time because we were going to have a baby, and he had expressed he was a little preoccupied with making sure things were ready for our new addition to our family. Alex had expressed that being charged with fraud could land someone in his position in jail and then in turn could ruin any future career possibilities. He also made it a point to talk with his supervisors to get reassurance that he was doing a good job and not making any mistakes. When people found out about Alex’s death, and that he had typed up a suicide note on his personal laptop a day prior, the reaction was, not him, no, surely it is not real. He would never do that. Someone else wrote it, or his computer was hacked. I am sure that, of those 41,149 people who have committed suicide, some of their family and friends have said the exact same thing. Everyone has a story, so here is mine.
It was Friday, July 22, 2011. Alex called me up and said that he thought he was going to get fired. He said that there were meetings going on that he was not a part of, and he had happened to see a sheet of paper that had “fraud” checked on it on a colleague’s desk. He met my Mom and me (my parents were visiting because we were going to take one more vacation before the baby was born) for lunch and was extremely anxious. He told us about these meetings and told us about the box that was checked. He was literally racking his brain to figure out what he had done. He then decided at that point to update his resume and look for other positions. On Saturday, Alex was still feeling very anxious. He was on his computer a lot looking for jobs. It was that afternoon that he had received a call from the (school district employee(s)). The (school district employee(s)) informed Alex that he needed to be at a meeting on Monday, July 25, to discuss two to four serious things. Alex was never informed or given a heads-up as to what these serious things were, but he needed to be there on his vacation day. I did my best to help Alex try and figure out what some of those things may have been.
Alex loved to hunt, so he had several shotguns in the house. On Saturday night, he entertained the idea of shooting some corncobs out behind the house to let off steam about the upcoming meeting. Seeing as we lived in a suburb and had neighbors that would walk around the woods, I discouraged him from doing that.
Alex also decided to go to Gander Mountain to sell his guns to get money. I went with him, and just as we were about to walk through the doors, he stopped. I reassured him that he didn’t need to do this now because I could see how torn he was about selling something that he loved to do. Those guns were his and a part of his life, and I reassured him we would be fine. So we went back to the house, but not before stopping at Wal-Mart to get shells. We were going to get rid of our security system, and he needed shells for the guns. Alex had done other things to try and generate revenue. He put our house on Twitter to rent a room, and he put his car on there as well to rent. All day, he continued to isolate himself and search for jobs. My family and I continued to monitor and support, trying to reassure him that it would be okay. Alex had had a very hard time sleeping since that Friday, as anyone would that was extremely stressed. He had tried to contact some people from work to see if they knew what was going on, but no one would pick up their phone. This was not done intentionally; it was that he was calling on their work phone, and many chose not to answer their work phones on the weekends. I even offered to contact the (school district employee(s)) myself to see if I could get an answer, but Alex discouraged me from doing that.
Finally, Sunday was here. Alex was at this point very much on his computer, didn’t really say a whole lot to anyone, and was very scared. He did come down the stairs and asked if we would take a ride to the district office to just check on some things. So, we all went together, and noticed that the (district employee(s)) was/were there. Alex verbalized again how he was scared and had no idea what he had done. I reassured him that it was not uncommon for someone to work on a Sunday especially because the (district employee(s)) was/were living in Tennessee alone. He then agreed. We made another stop, and we were on the way back home when Alex suggested driving past the district office just one more time. So we did. When we went past the office this time, the (school district employee(s)) was/were there as well as the (school district employee(s)). Alex panicked. He now said, with a type of certainty, he was sure he getting fired and he could even be going to jail. He claimed he knew how these things worked because he at one point had to let an employee go. The rest of the day, he was on his computer. I would go in and check on him. The one time that I had, he slammed down his laptop. So I pressed, and he said he was looking for pizza jobs because he thought no one would hire him. Looking back on that, he may have been typing up his suicide note.
I finally coaxed him to come with us to the pool to get his mind off of the situation. It was at the pool, when he looked at me and said that I was going to make a great mother. I then told him he was going to be a great father, and he did not say a word. Before we went to bed that night, I told him to take the guns out of his trunk. He went into the garage and supposedly did this. That night, Alex had a hard time sleeping; he had entertained the idea of taking sleeping pills before the meeting to relax. I had advised against this because I had told him he would need to have a clear mind, and I was worried about him driving as well.
That Monday morning arrived. It is a day that will forever stick in my mind. This will be the last day I will see him alive ever again. This will be the last day our unborn child will hear his voice or feel his touch. Alex got up, and got dressed. He wore khaki pants, and a purple polo. He was numb-looking. When I asked if he was going to wear a suit, he responded with a no. He then added that he was wearing the shirt I had bought him for our anniversary, the watch I had given him, an engagement present that he loved, and his wedding ring. I just thought all good luck charms. He then patted my stomach and set down a Wells Fargo bank on the dresser. He told me to make sure I gave this to the baby. I was so confused at the time. I again said that he was not going to jail. It will be fine. Then, as he was about to leave, he said, “Should anything happen to me, everything you need is in the black filing cabinet, and I will be at peace because your parents will take care of you.” And with that, he walked out the door.
Alex texted me saying he was at the meeting. I again reassured him we would get through this. He responded something on the lines of he was not so sure. Then I had asked if the police were there, and his response was not that he could see. I had no idea he was headed out of town. I had no idea he had purchased sleeping pills and more shotgun shells. I called the district office to see if the meeting was over. To my surprise and shock, I was informed then that Alex never made it to the meeting.
Later that night, with the help of the Oak Ridge Police Department and my helpful neighbor, Alex’s body was found in Cocke County. My father went with my neighbor that night to identify the body that was found. I was in no state being eight months pregnant to do this. My father did confirm that it was Alex’s body. My father loved Alex like a son, so you can only imagine what it was like for him to have to do this. Later that night, I was taken to the hospital and given something to stop contractions I didn’t even feel. I now was numb. Two receipts found were found in Alex’s car. One receipt was for sleeping pills he had purchased that morning from Walgreens and the other was for more shells, which he had purchased at a Wal-Mart. Both of those stops he had made were in Knoxville, not even close to going in the direction of Oak Ridge.
After countless reflections about that day and trying to figure out how I could have possibly stopped this from happening, I, like many others who have had this happen to them, came up with…nothing. I was there, I listened, I supported, I loved with all my heart. I didn’t know. I wish I had known so I could have gotten him some help. It wasn’t until his suicide note was found on his computer that I had any insight to just how bad he was feeling. I had never dealt with suicide. I had never thought in a million years it would be Alex. It was. So I am writing to help others whose stories have helped me. Please never think that this cannot happen to your child, to your husband, to your sister or brother, or to your best friend, or even your parent, or even to you. It could be anyone, so please take the time, not only because it is Mental Health Awareness Month, but also every month to raise an awareness of the growing need of support for our loved ones.
Please, if you are considering suicide, please contact a mental health professional now. You are loved. Please!