Hangings Leave West Texas Town's Residents Wondering about Suicides

Associated Press State & Local Wire
July 24, 2003

West Texas law officers say there's probably no link among four hangings within less than three months, but the deaths have left residents wondering why so many have taken their own lives.

Law officers say that before this summer, the town of 4,500 people about 70 miles north of San Angelo and 250 miles west of Dallas averaged only one suicide a year.

"If you went to San Angelo, it would be a rarity," Justice of the Peace Kay Richmond told the San Angelo Standard-Times in Thursday's editions. "But, I think it just so happened that these people were having problems at the same time."

The first victim, a 37-year-old Snyder man who was in town for a May 10 menudo cook-off, was arrested by Mitchell County sheriff's officers for public intoxication and booked into jail, said Sheriff Patrick Toombs.

He said that, 14 minutes after the man was taken to the jail's upstairs holding cell, a trustee discovered he had hanged himself.

The second victim, a 48-year-old elementary school counselor, was found hanged on May 25. About 450 children ages 5 to 10 were served by the counselor, said Colorado City Independent School District Superintendent Jim White. He said the children were informed of her death.

The third victim was the Rev. David Espitia, the 49-year-old priest at St. Ann's Catholic Church. Only days before, Espitia had told Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer that someone was accusing him of sexually abusing a minor. Espitia had denied the abuse. He was found hanged in his apartment June 13.

Law officers say the fourth victim, a 32-year-old Colorado City man, was found hanged at his parents' house Friday. He was a parishioner of St. Ann's.

"The first couple, I would say was a coincidence," said Toombs. "These last couple, I can't tell you for sure."

John Smith, a licensed professional counselor and case manager at the Harbor, a mental health branch of Community Medical Center, said that getting help in small towns is sometimes more difficult than in larger cities because of a difficulty in protecting anonymity.

"Some people worry that other people will see their cars outside of a counselor's office," Smith said.


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