Sean F.’s July 2010 obituary in the American-Statesman said he had passed away “unexpectedly.” But the 39-year-old had already tried to kill himself twice before, his parents later told investigators — once, three years earlier, with a gun. He had bipolar disorder and possibly was schizophrenic, according to his autopsy report. The Austin Police Department had also identified him internally as an “EDP,” an emotionally disturbed person recognized by officers from previous contacts.
Yet, one week before he died, he was still able to purchase a gun. He then used the 9 mm handgun to shoot himself inside his North Austin apartment. (The Statesman isn’t using the full names of suicide victims because in some cases their families or friends couldn’t be reached.)
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To get help
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-TALK (8255) — or Austin Travis County Integral Care’s local crisis number: 512-472-HELP (4357). Information on Means Matter and the Gun Shop Project is available online: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/gun-shop-project
Looking at the records
It’s impossible to determine if efforts to limit access to guns would have prevented any of Travis County’s recent suicides. But medical examiner’s records show a number of people who’d recently undergone significant psychiatric treatment were able to acquire guns:
• A 40-year-old man was released from Seton Shoal Creek Hospital, a psychiatric treatment facility, in February 2010 after being admitted there for severe anxiety attacks, according to records. Sales receipts show he purchased a .357-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver several days later. He used it to kill himself March 26, 2010, at his South Austin apartment, records show.
• A 53-year-old man was admitted to an unnamed psychiatric institution in early 2010 after trying to kill himself with prescription medications. In response, his doctor decreased his pain prescriptions, according to county records. However, he purchased a 9 mm Glock handgun on April 24, 2010, sales receipts showed. Three days later he used it to shoot himself at his home off of Wells Branch Parkway near MoPac.
• A 40-year-old man diagnosed as bipolar and depressive had been admitted to Shoal Creek in May 2011 after threatening suicide, records show. On Aug. 18, 2011, according to sales receipts, he purchased a .38-caliber revolver at Cabela’s. Later that day, at his home near West Slaughter Lane and MoPac, he used it to kill himself.
• A 54-year-old man with “a long history of care from Shoal Creek” entered a Houston clinic in August 2011 to treat his severe depression. Three weeks after his November 2011 release from the clinic, he purchased a .38-caliber revolver at an Academy store, records show. He used it the following day at his Clarksville home.
• A 40-year-old man was committed to Shoal Creek by Austin police in May 2012 because he said he was feeling suicidal. A neighbor removed the man’s guns from his house at the advice of hospital staff, records show, but the guns were returned when the man was released. He used one of them, a 9 mm handgun, to kill himself four months later at his home off of Manor Road.
This story continues scrutiny of mental health issues by Eric Dexheimer, named Star Reporter of the Year last month by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors. He has written about oversight of the state psychiatric hospitals and the high rate of suicide among prisoners kept in isolation units.