(Tristin Hopper | July 17, 2014)
Six years after Vince Li beheaded a Greyhound passenger, another death: Mountie at the scene commits suicide
One of the Mounties who responded to the 2008 Manitoba bus beheading committed suicide on the weekend after years of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It was a very rapid decline in the last six months … he sent text messages like, ‘I think I’m too broken to ever be fixed,’ and he would also say, ‘I wish I had cancer because then people would understand,’ ” Wendy Walder, sister of Cpl. Ken Barker, told the Winnipeg Free Press Thursday.
The 51-year-old member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is among 13 first responders who have killed themselves in the past 10 weeks, says the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, a group working to end the stigma of PTSD.
“He was the 11th, but we have had two additional [suicides] overnight and the number’s up to 13 now,” said Vince Savoia, the trust’s spokesman.
In earlier comments to Global News, he called it “a national tragedy.”
Cpl. Barker was found dead in the basement of his Manitoba home. He had recently retired and was estranged from his wife Shari, whom he met in high school.
She arrived at the house to find the front door open, then called paramedics after finding nobody on the upper floors.
“Ken suffered a long battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” read his obituary, published Wednesday.
“So many people reached out to him but as is common with PTSD, he would withdraw and isolate himself.”
Cpl. Barker was a Mountie for 27 years, except for a brief stint with the Winnipeg Fire Department. For the latter part of his career he was a dog handler, working with Axa, a Czech Republic-born German shepherd.
“I love my job. I can’t foresee getting out of it any time soon,” he told a community news reporter in 2004. “This partnership, well, it’s very special to me.”
But as one of Manitoba’s few dog handlers, he worked irregular hours, frequently uncovering decaying corpses in the wilderness.
On the night of July 30, 2008, Cpl. Barker and Axa were among those called to the Trans Canada highway near Portage La Prairie after reports of a stabbing on a Greyhound bus.
They found Vince Li, a paranoid schizophrenic, who had decapitated his seatmate, Tim McLean, then cannibalized his body.
For four hours, the officers maintained a cordon as Li paced back and forth inside the bus.
“I don’t think I know anybody who said, ‘Gee, I wish I was at the Vince Li incident,’ ” noted a former colleague of Cpl. Barker who asked his name not be published.
There is an immediate need to educate, train, have a peer support program in place and bring awareness to RCMP members on their mental health
“We have exactly the same thoughts and fears and revulsion that everybody else does, but we do have a job to do.”
He added he was still “numb” after hearing about Cpl. Barker’s death, which “made me re-evaluate personally how I view police officers who say they have PTSD.”
He admitted he had sometimes thought of the diagnosis as a “crutch” used by officers to explain their reticence for “go-getter” policing. But Cpl. Barker “wore his heart on his sleeve and worked hard every second I knew him.”
People attending Cpl. Barker’s memorial service Friday are asked to make donations for Families of the RCMP for PTSD Awareness.
There is “an immediate need to educate, train, have a peer support program in place and bring awareness to RCMP members on their mental health,” said spokeswoman Lori Wilson.
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