On Nov. 5, the Fort Hood Army post observed a solemn commemoration of the first anniversary of the shooting rampage that claimed 13 lives.
Exactly three weeks later, on Nov. 26, a 22-year-old Dayton soldier, Pfc. Bryant Evans, became part of a quieter but even more deadly tragedy: Army suicides.
Evans died from a gunshot wound at his home in Killeen, Texas, in the shadow of the sprawling base. The Army’s investigation is still ongoing, but Chris Haug, Fort Hood’s chief of media relations, said there was no sign of foul play. Even before Evans’ death, Fort Hood had suffered 21 suicides this year, a record number — and triple the seven suicides in 2003.
Friends and family members are shocked that this hard-working young man would take his own life only 10 months after marrying his childhood sweetheart, Ariel DelRio.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better child,” said his father, Michael Harrison. “He was very kind-hearted, very soft-spoken, and would do anything for anybody.”
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Evans was the kind of kid who dressed up as a policeman for Halloween and never abandoned his dream of becoming a police officer. After graduating from Stivers School for the Performing Arts in 2007, Evans tried for two years to become a police officer, his father said.
“He and I just started to talk, that these guys coming back from war have a better shot at being a police officer and it’s more easy to integrate themselves,” Harrison said. “They use the military as a stepping stone to get where they wanted to go.”
Evans joined the Army as a multiple launch rocket system crew member in January, the same month as his marriage.
It seemed as if life was on track for a young man who showed so much promise in high school.
“Bryant was honestly a shy guy but once you get to know him, he was so goofy and outgoing,” said his sister-in-law, Erica DelRio of Dayton. “He was seriously like the brother I never had. I loved him so much.”
His former Stivers swim coach, Dayton attorney Anne Frayne, said she felt an instant kinship with Evans: “He seemed very stable. He always did whatever you asked him to do in practice or a meet. When I heard he went into the military, I thought it would be a really good fit.”
Frayne was shocked by the news of his suicide. “I’m crushed,” she said.
Harrison said he will never know why his son took his own life: “Don’t try to put an ending to it. There will never be a reason he did what he did.”
Army experts also are baffled — and extremely concerned — by the trend, with suicides more than doubling since 2004. Col. Chris Philbrick, deputy director for the Army’s health promotion risk reduction task force, said the rate has risen from 9.6 per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2004 to 21 per 100,000 so far this year.
Multiple deployments have been the most widely accepted explanation, but Philbrick said that’s only one factor. Most of the soldiers who committed suicide at Fort Hood this year had been deployed once or not at all. Harrison said that his son was about to be deployed to South Korea, but had not yet served overseas.
“Unfortunately there is no magic key,” Haug said. “Some have multiple deployments; some don’t. Some have marital problems; some don’t. Some have financial problems; some don’t.”
Philbrick said the Army is “committed to do all we can to turn the tables,” as well as changing a culture in which soldiers feared it would damage their careers to seek help. “We have stated very clearly that it’s a sign of strength and not weakness to raise one’s hands and say ‘I need help.’ It’s a conversation we have never before had in this manner about something people don’t want to talk about it.”
Col. Kathy Platoni of Beavercreek recently returned from an 11-month deployment as a unit psychologist in Afghanistan and said “I have never seen an organization take this issue so seriously as the Army is taking it. The amount of training we get, both in degree and intensity, is extraordinary.”
Platoni narrowly escaped the slaughter at Fort Hood last year that claimed the lives of some of her friends and colleagues. She was in the final stage of training before deployment with the U.S. Army Reserve’s 467th Combat Stress Control Detachment when an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan, allegedly opened fire, killing 12 soldiers and one civilian.
“I had just left the building where the shooting started minutes before,” Platoni recalled. “
For Platoni, the tragedy of Army suicides is just as troubling — and just as baffling.
“Studies have shown that one of the overriding factors is an overwhelming feeling of abandonment or feeling alone, of being so far removed from their support systems,” Platoni said. “The trend just scares me to death. What are we missing?”
How to get help
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or (800) 273-TALK (8255)