Kansas City officer's suicide highlights mental health struggles for first responders

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Kansas City police officers were called Friday to respond to an unthinkable situation. One of their own had gone missing and was feared to be suicidal.

"This type of call is one that happens often for members of the KCPD," said Sgt. Jake Becchina. "Only this time it was one of our own, a dedicated officer who has served the department for approximately 10 years."

Liberty police found the officer's vehicle in a church parking. The officer was inside, suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The officer, who has not been identified, was rushed to a hospital where he remained on life support until his organs could be donated. He passed away Monday.

KMBC reports the officer's suicide highlights a growing trend among law enforcement.

“This is really an epidemic among our family at this point," said Brad Lemon, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police. “I can name every officer who’s died in the line of duty since I’ve taken the job. I cannot come close to naming every officer who’s chosen to take their own lives. That’s how bad it is. Something has to change."

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Lemon said that hotlines are not enough and the department needs to reach out to officers proactively, adding that the city has yet to create a peer counseling program that was part of a new law passed this past August.

“At the end of the day, don’t we all just want healthy first responders?" Lemon said.

In 2017, there were more suicide deaths among members of law enforcement than deaths in the line of duty.

Sgt. Brett Doolittle with the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department took his own life just three days before his 35th birthday.

"My husband did not reach out for help. I wish he would have," Doolittle's widow, Lindsey Doolittle, said. "My husband thought he was doing me a favor when he ended his life. He really thought he was a burden."

She said she and friends knew her husband was struggling and they tried to help until the day Doolittle found her husband slumped in a chair in their garage.

"I remember taking three deep breaths before screaming," Doolittle said.

She's now talking to other law enforcement officers, sharing the pain, the struggle and the guilt that came later.

"We don't say people are weak when they die of cancer. We don't say someone is selfish if they die of a heart attack," Doolittle said.

A big part of Doolittle's message is that there is no shame in not being OK, and that it's not your fault.

Her hope is that awareness for these types of issues will become a movement. She is now part of Suicide Awareness Survivor Support.

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