Tampa Bay Times
Times staff writer
December 28, 2017
A retired deputy with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, she spent 15 years on the crisis negotiation team, talking people out of taking their own lives. But there was nothing she could do for her son.
Compounding the tragedy, she said, is that she was left to deal with it on her own. There was no help from the Marines. No casualty assistance officer. No honor guard. Nothing.
Nearly 500 troops killed themselves last year and the numbers are on pace to far exceed that in 2017. Thousands of former service members, about 20 a day in 2014, also take their own lives.
Suicide has hit home this year for some two dozen military families across Tampa Bay, including those left behind by a soldier from Tampa and by a Marine veteran — still carrying the scars of battle — from Indian Rocks.
The two men had their service in common, but the military stepped in to help ease the grief for only one of the families, pushing the other to join a cause: that no survivors of a military suicide should walk alone.
A Facebook post from Army Pfc. Matthew Forstrom left his parents horrified and helpless.
"... this isn’t anyone’s fault but my own," Forstrom wrote in a 341-word suicide note that appeared at 5:05 p.m. Dec. 4. "I only wish I had done it sooner."
Relatives of Army Pfc. Matthew Forstrom console each other near his flag draped coffin as it arrives at Tampa International Airport on Dec. 5. An Army Honor Guard received Forstrom's body during a plane-side service. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]The words set in motion ripples of action, from the 24-year-old soldier’s base in Fort Bliss, Texas, to his home town of Tampa. The Army and local law enforcement launched a massive search effort. His mother, Pamela Andrews, who was alerted to the post by a relative, sent her son an urgent text message.
You better call me back right now.
He did, Andrews said, and the two spoke briefly.
"He just wanted to ask for my forgiveness. He was going to take one more thing from me."
For 12 agonizing hours, Andrews and Forstrom’s father, Ronald Forstrom, who was on a business trip to Indiana, waited for news.
But the Army and first responders couldn’t find their son in time.
And so on a Friday night earlier this month, relatives and friends of Forstrom’s gathered in the cellphone lot at Tampa International Airport to wait for an escort onto the tarmac so they could watch a flag-drapped coffin come off American Airlines Flight 2623.
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