Amid a rash of suicides by police officers across the country, one New Hampshire police department is publicly sharing the story of one of its officers who took his own life earlier this week.
Nashua Police Capt. Jonathan Lehto died by suicide while visiting family in Seattle, Washington, on Monday, the department announced in a release.
Lehto grew up in Nashua, was a graduate of Nashua High School and was hired by the Nashua Police Department in 1999. He had an "unblemished" record over his 20 years of service, the department said.
"Jon's family and the members of the Nashua Police Department are shocked and saddened by this tragic event," the statement from Nashua Police Chief Michael Carignan said.
"We at the Nashua Police Department were stunned to learn Jon died by suicide. Jon ended his life early and we don’t know why. We are all left with questions which may never be answered."
The department said it decided to share the circumstances of Lehto's death with the support of his family to draw attention to the national issue of police officer suicides.
"Suicide is a national issue which does not exclude the first responder community," Carignan's statement said. "Only recently has it become more openly acknowledged and discussed. Jon’s death by suicide proves we must deal with this truth. Moving forward, we do not want anyone else to feel as though they are locked into this decision."
"The Nashua Police Department and Jon’s family acknowledge that suicide among law enforcement and other first responders is an epidemic. Jon’s suicide forced us to face the fact that we are not immune to this reality," Carignan continued.
"We are committed to being vocal in an effort to bring attention to and make others aware of this crisis. Jon spent his career helping people. We are hopeful that by not remaining silent about Jon’s death by suicide, we can honor who he truly was and encourage others to reach out for help."
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced. Carignan said he does not want the captain to be defined by how he died and the department plans to honor him at the services. Carignan said if sharing Jon’s story can help even one other officer it will have been worth it.
“If people are not going to talk about the issue, there are going to be more and it’s not going to be addressed. But if we’re out there and honest about it, maybe we can get people help,” he said in an interview with NBC 10 Boston.
The New York Police Department has dealt with a rash of suicides by police officers this year, despite mounting efforts to encourage officers to seek help for depression and other mental health problems. The Chicago Police Department has also been dealing with the issue following the deaths of six officers by suicide in an eight-month stretch. This has driven a discussion about the psychological toll of police work, a profession in which discussing mental health was long seen as taboo.
Law enforcement leaders around the country have said they are hoping to change that mindset.
President Donald Trump recently signed a bill authorizing up to $7.5 million in grant funding a year for police suicide prevention efforts, mental health screenings and training to identify officers at risk.
Suicide claims more officers' lives annually than violence in the line of duty.
There have been more than 120 law enforcement suicides in the U.S. this year, according to Blue H.E.L.P., a Massachusetts nonprofit dedicated to helping officers with PTSD, depression and other mental health struggles. That figure, which includes retired officers, puts the country on pace for the highest toll in at least the past four years.
The president of Blue H.E.LP. is praising the chief’s decision to go public with Jon’s story. She said it helps put an end to the stigma and sets an example for other departments.
“This is something people are going to take notice of and they’re going to stop sweeping it under the rug,” Solomon said. “It’s going to give other families the courage to step forward.”
Editor's note: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7 crisis support by text. Text HELLO to 741741 to be connected to a trained counselor.