Update: Infant orphan of deputies who took their own lives will be adopted by family member

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ST. LUCIE COUNTY, FL – A child orphaned when his parents committed suicide in January will be adopted by an unnamed family member.

Jayce Osteen had barely been alive when both of his parents died to suicide in early January of this year. Now, at least he will be able to remain in the family thanks to a relative who will be adopting him.

Kelly Ridle, a friend of the families, reported the news on a GoFundMe page which she created to raise money to go towards supporting the new family that Jayce will belong to. On GoFundMe, she wrote:

“The families of Clayton and Victoria are so grateful for all prayers and support received. A close family member will be adopting Jayce. All donations will be used for enriching Jayce’s life experiences and securing a brighter future.”

Jayce’s parents, Clayton Osteen and Vitoria Pacheco were both deputies with the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office.

Both deputies had been recognized for their selfless work for their community despite only being in law enforcement for a short period of time.

Law Enforcement Today brought you the original story after St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office reported that both deputies had taken their own lives.

Osteen attempted to kill himself on December 31st but was placed on life support until his family removed him from it on the 2nd.

Pacheco, after learning of Osteen’s death, apparently overcome with grief and shock, took her own life shortly after he died.

At the time of their death, St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara released the following statement:

“Words cannot express the tremendous loss we all feel after losing these two members of our sheriff’s office family. As sheriff, I saw these two deputies as young, ambitious, and a great compliment to my already amazing group of professionals.

To the general public, and sometimes even myself, it’s easy to view law enforcement as superhuman…but let’s not forget that they’re human just like us.

“Law enforcement deal with not only the day-to-day stress we all face but also the stress of those whom they serve in our community, which can sometimes be very challenging.

“While it is impossible for us to fully comprehend the private circumstances leading up to this devasting loss, we pray that this tragedy becomes a catalyst for change, a catalyst to help ease the stigma surrounding mental well-being and normalize the conversation about the challenges so many of us face on a regular basis.”

Suicide in law enforcement is more commonplace than anyone would like to admit, and part of that reason is that mental wellness is still something that is considered taboo by most law enforcement professionals.

As noted by Mascara, law enforcement officers deal with their own stress, but everyone else’s as well.

And while that is difficult on a daily basis, add into the fact that for the better part of the last year and a half, the entire profession has been demonized through mainstream media and politicians.

Officers should feel safe reaching out to therapists or trusted friends to tell them what they are experiencing, especially when they find themselves turning to self-medication. That is why LET developed the NEED HELP? link at the top of the page.

Two men arrested and charged with the attempted murder of a Chicago cop after shooting him during a traffic stop

Horrific: Two sheriff’s deputies from same agency that share a child take their own lives within days of each other

The following contains editorial content written by a retired Chief of Police and current staff writer for Law Enforcement Today. 

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, FL- This is one of the more heartbreaking stories we’ve shared on Law Enforcement Today.

We’ve reported a number of times on the epidemic of suicides among law enforcement officers. This past weekend, that epidemic took a devastating turn for the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Department in Florida.

On New Year’s Eve, Deputy Clayton Osteen tried to kill himself, and on Sunday the family removed him from life support.

After learning of Osteen’s death, Deputy Victoria Pacheco took her life, according to Sheriff Ken Mascara and reported by Fox 29 in West Palm Beach. Equally disturbing, the two shared a one-month-old son.

In a statement on the department’s Facebook page, Mascara spoke of his two deputies in announcing the suicides:

“As sheriff, I saw these two deputies as young, ambitions, and a great compliment to my already amazing group of professionals. To the general public, and sometimes even myself, it’s easy to view law enforcement as superhuman…but let’s not forget that they’re human just like us.

“Law enforcement deal with not only the day-to-day stress we all face, but also the stress of those whom they serve in our community, which can sometimes be very challenging.

“While it is impossible for us to fully comprehend the private circumstances leading up to this devastating loss, we pray that this tragedy becomes a catalysts for change, a catalyst to help ease the stigma surrounding mental well-being and normalize the conversation about the challenges so many of us face on a regular basis.”

 

While clearly the focus on law enforcement officer deaths is typically on those feloniously killed in the line of duty, police suicides have remained at a startling rate over the past several years.

As a matter of fact, according to an article last year in the Chicago Tribune, police officers over the past few years have been more likely to die at their own hand than from a line of duty death.

The number peaked in 2019 at 247, with 185 committing suicide in 2020 and 165 last year, so fortunately the numbers are trending in the right direction, according to a nonprofit based in Massachusetts which tracks police suicides.

The numbers are probably much higher, since the organization relies on information submitted by current and retired police officers, the Tribune article noted. One possible explanation for the drop in 2020 and 2021 is the coronavirus pandemic, but that is just a theory.

One city which has seen a number of police suicides is Chicago, where in 2021 in just the first three months of the year, three Chicago PD officers had taken their own life, marking twelve since 2018. A DOJ report from a year earlier showed the suicide rate among Chicago officers was 60% higher than the national average for police officers.

Post traumatic stress disorder, which is primarily considered among members of the military, also affects first responders, not only police officers but firefighters as well. According to the National Fallen Firefighters Association, firefighters are three times more likely to die from suicide than in the line of duty.

An opinion piece in The Hill addressed research which shows that in the case of police officers, may feel stigmatized if they reach out for help, which is deemed as a sign of weakness for a career where police officers are expected to maintain a “tough guy” persona.

While many police and fire departments have implemented programs where personnel involved in traumatic calls have a chance to debrief and get things “off their chest,” many do not.

I can speak personally to the importance of post-traumatic incident stress debriefings. I had been a police officer for about 25 years, had just been promoted to lieutenant, and had been to my share of traumatic incidents during that time, from horrific car accidents to a fire where four young adults were killed, the stabbing death of an elderly man to a young child having his abdomen ripped open in a horrific fall. 

All of that builds up and weighs on you, although you try to put it in the back of your mind. You pretend like it doesn’t bother you, but with each and every traumatic call, every child seriously injured in a car accident, the weight becomes unbearable.

For much of my first twenty years, my police department didn’t offer any means to debrief after stressful incidents. That began to change in the late 1990s, early 2000s. And as a supervisor, I began to take notice of the stress my officers experienced after such incidents, and became not only a believer but a strong advocate of such debriefings.

One night my department received a call reporting gunshots at a local condominium project. Officers arrived at the scene, and as the only supervisor working that night, left the station where I was the shift commander and went to the scene.

Given the circumstances, I authorized entry to the condominium. Upon going inside, we discovered four elderly victims, all suffering fatal gunshot wounds to the head. Two of them were lying in bed, one was I believe on a couch, the other on the floor, with a gun next to his hand. It was determined it was a triple murder/suicide.

I had two rookie officers on-scene and this was their first exposure to such a horrific scene. It shook me up as a 25-year officer who had seen a lot, so I knew these officers were affected, whether they admitted it or not. I could see it in their eyes.

Within a matter of a few days, we set up a post-incident stress debriefing. Several of the responding officers said they “didn’t need it” but they were told they needed to attend, but were not required to say anything. The session lasted about an hour, and some officers spoke, including me, while others did not.

After the debriefing, one of the officers who did not speak asked to talk to me in my office. She sat down and I could tell she was upset. She told me that she had no idea that a grizzled veteran such as me would be affected by such a call, since I had “seen it all.”

I explained to her the importance of getting in touch with your emotions after such an incident and even if you didn’t want to talk it out amongst your peers, you needed to speak with someone about it.

Or sometimes, just listening to others and hearing them express their feelings can let you know that you are not alone. Trying to “tough it out” may work for a while but it’s not a recipe for long-term success.

Many police officers “self-medicate” through alcohol and prescription meds and that is a recipe for disaster, including suicide. I wish such post-stress debriefings were offered to me early in my career.

It would have saved me a lot of headaches (usually the morning after) and would have likely enhanced my career.

Officers should not be afraid to reach out if things get to the point where they become physically ill, find themselves drinking or self-medicating to alleviate the stress, become violent or withdrawing from family or friends.

Speaking of friends, it is important, speaking from personal experience, to have friends outside of law enforcement…it helps to maintain perspective.

Most importantly, as Sheriff Mascara said, if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call 211 or contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

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