COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A deputy's death has stunned the Richland County Sheriff's Department.
Sheriff Leon Lott stood in front of television cameras on Monday afternoon to talk to the public about the killer that's normally swept under the rug - suicide.
Senior Deputy Derek Fish took his own life after completing his shift on Friday evening.
"Last Friday afternoon, after completing his shift, he returned to his regional headquarters at Region Three at Denny Terrace Elementary School," Lott said. "He parked in the back and he used his service weapon to take his life."
Suicide isn't normally a subject Lott speaks to the public about, but the sheriff, who was visibly shaken at times on Monday afternoon, felt it was critical for him to discuss. "We have to admit that suicide exists," he said. "We have to talk about it. We have to prevent this."
"We normally don't talk about suicides," Lott said. "But the family and I discussed it and we said, 'it's time to stop that.'"
"The number one killer of law enforcement officer is not being shot by a bad guy or being in a wreck, it's suicide," the sheriff said. "Suicide is the number one killer of police officers. It's something we just don't talk about. In the 20 years I've been sheriff, this is the third one that we've had."
The 28-year-old, who was known as "Nemo," had just learned he made the master deputy list, meaning when a position opened up, it was his. "He was a very energetic young man," Lott said. "Everybody who knew him knew who he was, knew his smile."
SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Available 24 hours every day
The Badge of Life: http://www.badgeoflife.com/
"We're all struggling to try to understand 'why' and we don't have an answer," Lott said. "He didn't leave a note. He didn't communicate with anybody what his intention was. For all purposes that shift was just a normal shift. He answered calls that day. He made an arrest...and then for some unknown reason, he did what he did."
The department's last suicide was in 2007. Friday's tragedy is the third such death Lott has seen under his command.
"I failed on Friday," Lott said as he took a few moments to compose himself. "My job is to protect these guys. And that's physically and mentally. My job is to protect them and take care of them. I thought we had done a lot."
From adding a full-time psychologist to his staff to offering a chaplain service to making sure all officers receive pre-PTSD training, Lott said he felt the department has done a lot since 2007.
"After Friday, I realized we haven't done enough and we still have to do more," the sheriff said. "One of the things we do more is what I am doing here and that publicly talks about suicides. It's not just in law enforcement, it's out in our community and we don't talk about it enough. We have people amongst us that have got issues that we just don't see, we don't understand. And sometimes when they cry for help, we don't answer that cry."
Lott promised he'd do even more to try to prevent suicide.
"We've got to do better training and better talking," he said. "We're going sit down and examine everything that we do now and then look for help from other places."
Fish was also a staff sergeant with the 169th Security Force Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base.
The funeral for Senior Deputy Fish will take place on Wednesday, Aug. 2 at 4 p.m. at Bethlehem Baptist Church, located at 1028 Eastman Street in Columbia. The services are open to the public.