A 24-year-old pregnant military spouse killed her 17-month-old son, before turning the gun on herself and ending her own life.
The mother, 24-year-old Tristen Watson and her son, 17-month-old Christopher Watson died from gunshot wounds in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado Springs.
Watson was also pregnant with a baby girl at the time of her death.
Even though this tragedy happened far away, it has ties back to Louisiana as Watson was originally from Louisiana.
More importantly, the chain of events and subsequent outcomes of this story can now serve as a lesson for communities like ours. Communities that have forts located nearby, and military life embedded in every aspect of our towns and villages.
Watson and her story offer a glimpse into the life of a military spouse and just how cruel life can be.
Watson was once a young, healthy mother and wife. The question is what happened to make her fall so far that she took the lives of her two children and killed herself?
For Watson, it was the combination of untreated depression and cyberbullying.
Watson was a member of the Fort Carson Spouse Page on Facebook. The page is designed as a type of digital gathering place for military spouses.
Members of the page reported noticing posts made by Watson where she was reaching out to other spouses for help and advice, as she was trying to find ways to deal with her depression and personal struggles with military life.
Some members of the group offered advice and positive comments, while others told Watson to “deal with it” and that “military life is hard”.
Learning of a military spouse’s suicide should rattle anyone who knows just how much sacrifice spouses make to follow their loved ones around the military life journey.
It isn’t easy.
Isolation, relocation, PCSing, never knowing when your spouse will be deployed or sent somewhere else is no easy feat.
The mental stressors associated with military life are challenging enough on their own, but adding untreated depression into the equation would make for crippling mental health diseases.
The Department of Defense only recently began collecting data on dependent suicides. The first data comes from 2017, where 123 spouse suicides were reported.
A staggering 17 of those spousal suicides were active duty, the rest being civilian spouses.
There were also 63 dependent suicides, outside of spouses.
The rate of military spouse suicides for active-duty members is 13.2/100,000.
Facebook pages for every duty station are a resource for spouses and service members alike to find out information about their new duty station.
Where to live, childcare, work, local businesses, finding friends for themselves or their children or simply providing a vent session for those who are looking for a group of people who understand.
While these groups can be helpful, and provide a great resource for spouses new and experienced, they also provide an environment for trolls.
Cyberbullying in military spouse Facebook pages can be in the form of making fun of spouse's parenting, marital issues, appearance; or it can push spouses further into isolation when they turn to a group to ask questions or offer their opinions and get nothing but bullying and belittlement in return.
After Watson’s death, one Facebook group reported that Watson’s image was being shared in a different spouse group. In the group her image was shared with, members began to make fun of Watson, mocking the way she looked.
Here’s the bottom line
We need to do better: not just for our military spouses but for people in general.
Report any bullying you see on a Facebook page to the administrators of that page, and Facebook immediately.
Stand up for people like Watson, you could be saving a life.
If you are feeling depressed or considering suicide please contact one of the resources below
Visit Military OneSource or call 1-800-342-9647
Counseling and mental health services are covered by TRICARE. Your first three visits to a mental health provider are covered without a referral. After that, simply ask your counselor or mental health professional for a referral. You or your spouse cannot be negatively impacted by you or them seeing a mental health provider.
If you are in a crisis, please call the Veterans and Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, and press 1.
If you are grieving the death of an active duty service member or dependent, contact TAPS or call 1-800-959-8277.
You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.