In the early hours of September 17, 2011, the tones drop in the Communications Center for a possible shooting. We dispatch on the call immediately while information is still coming in. Units are responding lights and sirens for a possible report of a male who has shot himself, the call is right on the City/County Line. About a minute later we receive the 911 caller into our communications center, my partner beside me picks up the phone before I can. I pick up the line with her and listen in, we had a similar call a few weeks before involving the same situation and we were discussing which protocol to run it under for our dispatch protocols. You can hear panic in the background and lots of people talking.
One of the first things the caller says is she is Paramedic and that the male has already passed. It suddenly hits me that this is right beside my part-time job where I work for a private ambulance company part-time. Then I realize who is calling this in, I know her, she is a paramedic, but I also wonder who the male is, must have been just one of the numerous people who always walked thru the parking lot. My partner keeps asking her questions about it, but nothing jumps out at me. Units from the City and the neighboring county arrive all at once. they summon EMS in. Our unit gets on the radio and asks for a confirmed time for the death, I speak up, “0455 hours.” The crew got there and found a male suffering from one gunshot to the head, fatal.
Fast forward about an hour and a half, the supervisor gets back and is talking about it. Verifies it was in the parking lot of the private ambulance company. He said it was a male in his early twenties. He said the male there had taken his girlfriend back to get her car and they had a fight in the parking lot, he put a gun to his head and for some unknown reason the gun went off. Suddenly my heart sank, there could only be a few people this could truly be. I asked the name of the male, he said he couldn’t immediately remember, but said he volunteered for a local rescue squad. I asked if his name was Jamie, he said it is and I knew him, my heart sank even more. Jamie volunteered for a different rescue squad than I did, but we volunteered in the same county. We had just worked together on an ambulance at the private ambulance company a month before this, we even went to high school together years before this. My head began to spin and try and comprehend this.
I had been in EMS for a little over 6 years around this time, but I had only worked in communications for 9 months when this happened. I didn’t know how to comprehend any of this. I got up from my console and went out back. All kinds of emotions flooded me. I needed to talk to someone. I tried calling his best friend who I was really good friends with, his phone didn’t work and was turned off for the night. I tried calling his girlfriend, her phone was turned off also, another friend and another friend, but no one was answering. I didn’t know who else to call at the time. I called my wife, who worked nights as well. I called her directly in the ER that she worked out, she knows I never call her. She picked up the phone and said what’s up, I honestly don’t remember how the conversation exactly went. I told her what happened and who it was, but I couldn’t get ahold of anyone, it was like I was stuck in a bad dream.
I remember clocking out, all my supervisor said to me is, “Are you okay?” I guess I only responded with a “yea I’m fine,” but was I? I drove past the parking lot, the company vehicles blocked off the streets leading into the parking lots, police were still there, his vehicle was there. He loved that Red Honda so much, police line tape wrapped everywhere. I needed to go home. I saw my wife, she gave me one of the biggest hugs ever and she just cried for me in the kitchen of our house. She cried so much for me, but I just hugged her and was there for her, I didn’t cry. She asked if I was ok, I responded with, “Yea I’m okay,” but was I? The next 24 hours were spent sleepless and trying to catch people up on what details I knew about.
The texts…the phone calls…the Facebook messages…I didn’t sleep at all that day. I received a message later in the day, a group from the EMS Council would be at the rescue squad for anyone who wanted to come. I called work and said I’d be in later. I went to it, everyone that knew him was there, of course, I knew them. We all volunteered, worked, or just knew each other. They filled us in about details, but this wasn’t a debriefing or CISM program, this was just somewhere where everyone could gather to let some steam off. Then his family showed up. I thought that was an awesome gesture, but again I don’t remember a lot of everything that went on there. Everyone asked if I was okay, I replied with, “yea I’m okay,” but was I?
His memorial service was amazing. His best friend organized an amazing service for him, I helped him with a few details. He sprang on me that he wanted me to speak during the service. I told him I didn’t even know what to say. The day came, his memorial service pamphlet didn’t have my name as speaking, I thought I had gotten out of it. Then he stood up and asked me to come speak, my heart sank again. I know I prepared something, but to this day I can not remember what I said.
I’m not sure who initiated contact first, but me and his mother began to talk a lot after Jamie’s death. She confided in me that I was a neutral party to everything and needed a lot of information that I could possibly help her with. We met a few times for lunch and I tried to give her the most honest and truthful information I could give her and that I knew about Jamie.
She told me about Jamie and his current girlfriend at the time. They had arguments, what couple doesn’t. She found out that Jamie had been using Xanax a lot and found out that there are serious consequences to using Xanax for long periods of times including depression. She wondered if his current girlfriend at the time got him hooked on it because she had a history of drug use. Of course, rumors began to fly, but I tried to stay out of it, we all hear them and form our own opinions on it.
It took me almost 3 months to finally breakdown and let all of my feelings out about Jamie. I remember that day, it was close to thanksgiving or Christmas and I was acting really strange towards my wife that day. She kept asking and asking what was wrong and to talk, but I said I was fine, but I wasn’t. Somehow I ended up in my bedroom and she came back and asked again. I broke down and mentioned Jamie and how awful I feel that he wasn’t around for the holidays for his family and how awful I just feel. Nothing else was ever really said.
One year passes after his death, then two, then three. The Facebook memories and the “On This Day,” fill your phone or computer with memories. You begin to dread that anniversary or birthdays for that person, not that it’s a bad thing, but for you personally, you can’t handle it. The week leading up to the anniversary is always sad and dark for me. I don’t sleep and can’t seem to find fulfillness in anything. I remember this last year I was in a fire academy and one of the closest classmates asked what was up, I explained it and he said its all good and that if I needed something to let him know. Over the years since his death, I had random thoughts, good thoughts, bad thoughts, terrible thoughts, demons, and some weird tapping on the shoulder moments, but no one was there tapping me.
In December of 2016, I began to have lots of thoughts filling my head. I wasn’t sure who these demons were, they were dark and scary. These weren’t those simple thoughts of, “What if I just turn the wheel real quick,” these were scary thoughts that I should never have. I’ll be completely honest, I was having thoughts of harming myself and just ending my life. I had a gun, I could just go off somewhere and do something, but I didn’t. I didn’t have a plan, nor was I going to act on it. These thoughts filled my mind for a good week. They were making me struggle at my job and my home life.
One day my wife asked if I was ok, I’m pretty sure I replied with no, and that I didn’t know what to do. She told me I needed to go find someone to talk to or that she was going to find someone. I wound up going into our QA/QI office to one of my only very trusted employees to go to about this. She help runs our CISM team at work and is someone I know who won’t tell my business to anyone. Her office is known for people going in to just vent and let steam off. I sat down and she was on the phone, I politely waited for her to get off the phone. My foot shaking as it crossed my other foot, I knew what I was about to tell her, but I didn’t know how it would affect the future.
She got off the phone and looked at me and asked what she could do for me. I stared at her and said I needed help. She looked at me and said what kind of help, I told her I’m having a lot of bad thoughts right now and I don’t know how to process them. She raised her eyebrow and I’m sure I rolled my eyes in pure fashion like I usually do. I told her I didn’t have a plan nor was I going to act on it, but I’m definitely having suicidal thoughts and this isn’t normal. She knew slightly about Jamie, she knew I never got help, but I also never seemed help after his event. Luckily a few weeks before this a psychologist at the local hospital offered her services if anyone ever needed them. I called her and had an appointment set up within a week to go talk to her.
I stared at her and said I needed help. She looked at me and said what kind of help, I told her I’m having a lot of bad thoughts right now and I don’t know how to process them. She raised her eyebrow and I’m sure I rolled my eyes in pure fashion like I usually do. I told her I didn’t have a plan nor was I going to act on it, but I’m definitely having suicidal thoughts and this isn’t normal. She knew slightly about Jamie, she knew I never got help, but I also never seemed help after his event. Luckily a few weeks before this a psychologist at the local hospital offered her services if anyone ever needed them. I called her and had an appointment set up within a week to go talk to her.
I went and talked to a psychologist and had a couple of sessions with her. We obviously could tell I had PTSD. She did a thing on me called EMDR which is Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Basically, she waved her hand in front of me a bunch of times, we processed the event, it was a very emotional thing to go through. It helped process all thoughts and feelings towards Jamie’s death. I followed up with her the following week feeling completely different. For the first time in over six years, I hadn’t spent every waking moment of my day thinking about Jamie’s death or the events around it.
I didn’t feel depressed and saddened about his death. The memories and everything are still there, but my mind has processed it and I can talk about it and feel about it, without getting upset. One of the best things is music sounds so much better. In those dark times, music didn’t sound at all good to me. I have loved music since a very young age and the music was one of my outlet’s, in those dark times music could help pull me out of some tough times, but I knew once music couldn’t do that that I needed some help.
In the weeks past, my mind has gotten brighter. I was asked to help put my experiences into a PTSD video for the state EMS training program that would be seen across the entire state. I was also asked to sit on a panel discussion about PTSD during a statewide EMS Expo and speak in front of my peers about this.
What I want people to know is that, yes we have to be strong, but how can we be strong if we aren’t strong for ourselves. We have to protect ourselves first, or we will fall. We can act all strong and whatever, but you know how much you are breaking on the inside, speak up and ask for help. It’s one of the hardest things we will have to do, but you never know when you speak up and ask for help when that might influence one other person to speak up also.
– Story written by Benjamin Gomes, Richmond Ambulance Authority. 30 year old communications officer, EMT, and firefighter. 12 years as a first responder.