First responders, police tend to several self-inflicted deaths in Knox County over course of four days
ROCKLAND – The Knox County Sheriff’s Department has investigated four suicides this year. Three of those four deaths occurred in the past four days, according to Chief Deputy Tim Carroll.
In a seven-hour time span within one shift Saturday night into Sunday morning, Knox County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a known medical death in Owls Head before going to St. George for a suicide, and then another suicide in Union.
The third self-inflicted death occurred in Hope, Tuesday evening.
Aside from all three being males, no link could be formed.
For Carroll and Lt. Patrick Polky, also of the Knox County Sheriff’s Department, the sudden jump in suicides is not only atypical, but tragic in the fact that September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
Yet, a national trend indicates suicides are on the increase, according to the Center for Disease Control. And in Maine, on Saturday night, Sept. 15, this was no exception.
All deaths must be reported to the State Medical Examiner’s office, Carroll said.
Knox deputies had trouble contacting the medical examiner to report the first, a medical death. Once contact had been established, deputies were informed that the M.E.’s office had been called to seven deaths statewide in the two-and-a-half-hour period prior to Knox County’s first call. Four of those seven were suicides.
As employers in a first responder field with the added expectation of being indirect social workers, Carroll and Polky spoke of the eventual wear-down of their officers.
“[Suicides] are always our toughest and most difficult calls that we have to deal with,” Carroll said. “It’s not just the investigation. We have to deal with the aftermath of notification with family members and friends.”
Polky talks with families and hears the survivor’s guilt that surfaces as the warning signs that once seemed small and explainable are analyzed in hindsight.
“Through this weekend, there were small indicators. But they are things that nobody thinks are indicators until after the fact,” he said.
Little clues include the person suddenly giving stuff away. Or, they may have been unhappy for months before randomly becoming euphorically happy – without a change in medication.
“Most people will say, ‘Oh, well, good. They’re happy again. This is great,’” Polky said.
“In our profession, when something like that changes that drastically, now what are they thinking? Why did it change? But, it’s just because we’re suspicious by nature,” he said. “Until you know, until the person comes to you, you don’t really know,” he said.
“Don’t hesitate to call us,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
In regard to Veterans, Polky spoke of the difficulties of those who restart civilian life, yet no longer feel they belong. Others, according to Carroll, acquire a feeling of helplessness. And many, including officers, drift slowly into a dark place.
Some seek help from friends who are strong enough in their caring to ask direct, sometimes uncomfortable, questions and push the person toward help – (A.C.E.: Ask the questions, Care enough to force assistance, Escort to help).
Others will either tell their suicidal thoughts directly to law enforcement, or create a situation where the law must take the action that the person himself is considering.
“We have to react,” Carroll said. “We have to respond, and we have to protect human life, whether it be theirs, ours, or somebody else’s.”
If you believe that you or someone you know could be in crisis, do not hesitate to call the statewide crisis line at (888) 568-1112, according to the NAMI Maine website.
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org