Trying to understand the inconceivable

A friend’s suicide leaves a reporter with questions that can’t be answered and a pain that won’t diminish

If there is any criminal act that leaves the victim’s survivors more bewildered, frustrated and tormented than suicide, I can’t imagine what it could possibly be.

David-Webb
David Webb The Rare Reporter

Four months ago, I discovered one of my former college classmates and best friends of more than 40 years dead in his home, apparently by his own hand. The official ruling was suicide by a shot to the head with a handgun that I didn’t even know he owned.

I now understand that he bought the gun for protection several decades ago. The idea that my friend would even own a gun for protection seemed ludicrous to me because I couldn’t imagine anyone who was so loving, peaceful and gentle being capable of shooting anyone, let alone himself.

I’ve been told that some people buy guns for protection because they believe that the exhibition of one will scare an intruder away. That must have been what he was thinking.

I’ve finally decided to write about this because The Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow recently wrote a column noting that older white men are more likely to commit suicide than other groups of people. My friend fit in that category.

It is inconceivable to me that my friend — who as a young man had been beautiful, talented, athletic, affluent and charismatic — could ever succumb to such a fate. But if it could happen to him, I guess it could happen to anyone when they grow older.

My friend was a 61-year-old straight guy who had never been married, and his best friend was his elderly Jack Russell Terrier who was dying of old age. He became so depressed one time that he went to bed and was found later, nearly dead of starvation and dehydration.

As a young man, my friend was adored by both women and men. But when he grew older, the attention from everyone died away. He had trouble making dates and trying to form a relationship in his older years.

He also was experiencing devastating financial problems of which few people were aware.

My friend had suffered a similar depressive experience five years ago when his mother died of natural causes. But he seemingly had recovered enough to function for a few years before his death. But he apparently quit taking the medication that had brought him back to sanity in years past. He suffered a terrible relapse as a result.

My friend was admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit and later transferred to a mental hospital. Although his family and many friends rallied around him with loving care, he just never made it back to where he had been. His beloved dog was put to sleep while he was hospitalized.

He was released from the hospital, but it was clear he was not well. He was registered for outpatient care but apparently could not face it.

Within two days, he was dead.

Many things come to my mind about this on a near-daily basis now. It is so unbelievable to me that he could shoot himself or anyone else that I sometimes have trouble believing it was really a suicide.

I think that’s what they call denial.

Logically, I know it was suicide, and I’m glad that he is free of the severe mental illness that he had apparently endured for a number of years.

Emotionally, I search for answers and often think, “What if?” I would never have left him alone for those two days had I known he was in such danger from himself.

The two lessons I believe that can be learned from this are that if someone has suffered a mental illness, they should never be left alone until it is ascertained they are again stable.

The other message is for the mentally ill who are considering suicide if they are able at that point of making logical decisions: The pain and suffering that will be wrought upon the surviving friends and family will result in a lifetime of utter agony for them.

A friend of mine whose mother went into her garage many years ago, started her car and died, said to me, “Your mind is going to be raw for a very long time.” And it is.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative press for more than two decades. He is a former Dallas Voice staff writer and editor. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  Kevin Thomas

Intruder at Ellen’s House

ELLEN DEGENERES PORTIA DE ROSSI X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COMA 49-year-old woman was charged Monday with a misdemeanor offense of
trespassing, a week after she was arrested near the home of Ellen
DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi.
Advocate.com: Daily News

—  David Taffet

Mary Christmas Carols: Antoine Dodson’s ‘Chimney Intruder’

You might remember Antoine Dodson’s accidental claim to fame when his spirited response on the news was converted into a dance remix and pop culture landmark for 2010. Through no fault of his own, he became an Internet sensation for speaking out loud against the perpetrator who invaded his family’s house and for saving his sister from being a rape victim. But the openly gay Dodson seems to have handled the ups and downs of all the social commentary, jokes and parodies with tremendous charm.

Dodson still has his hustle going, and why not? George Lopez had the world premiere of Dodson’s “Chimney Intruder” last night on Lopez Tonight. Gone are the awkward implications of his reactionary remix. Instead, it’s kind of a train wreck, but still, he made us look … again.

—  Rich Lopez

Schoolteacher arrested in 2008 shooting death of partner

Vaughn told police Judy Bell was shot by an intruder, but police say Vaughn was a suspect all along

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Seidah Muhammad Vaughn

CEDAR HILL — Few details emerged this week about what may have led a woman to fatally shoot her lesbian partner in this suburb south of Dallas in 2008, or how authorities finally linked her to the crime three years later.

Seidah Muhammad Vaughn, 41, was arrested Monday, Dec. 6, on a charge of first-degree murder in the February 2007 murder of her partner, Judy Marie Bell, 34.

After being taken into custody at the high school where she teaches in Oklahoma City, Vaughn waived extradition and was brought Tuesday to the Dallas County jail, where she was being held on $500,000 bond.

Vaughn called 911 in the early morning hours of Feb. 29, 2008, and said an intruder had shot Bell in the Cedar Hill home they shared. But there were no signs of forced entry, and authorities never believed Vaughn’s story.

“She’s always been a person of interest, and our detectives have actually kept up with her location over the years because of that,” said Corky Brown, a spokesman for the city of Cedar Hill. “Recently, they came across some information that gave them what they were looking for.”

Brown declined to elaborate and said the motive for the crime remained unknown.

“We don’t typically try them [cases] in the public,” Brown said. “The idea is to get the information to the district attorney and let them try the case.”

Marshall McCallum, the assistant Dallas County district attorney assigned to the case, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons said court records contained no additional information because the case was referred by a grand jury.

According to media reports, both Vaughn and Bell taught at Permenter Middle School in Cedar Hill at the time of the murder. They’d lived together for four years.

Bell was a special education teacher and basketball coach. Vaughn taught English and language arts.

Bell’s 10-year-old son and three of Vaughn’s children — ages 11-20 — were in the home sleeping at the time of the shooting.

Vaughn began teaching in Oklahoma City in February 2009.  Bell’s son now lives with his father in Houston.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Oklahoma City teacher charged with murder in lesbian partner’s 2008 Cedar Hill slaying

Seidah Muhammad Vaughn

A woman is accused of fatally shooting her lesbian partner in their Cedar Hill home in 2008.

Seidah Muhammad Vaughn, a teacher, was arrested Monday at Douglass High School in Oklahoma City, according to The Oklahoman. Vaughn is charged with first-degree murder.

Vaughn’s partner, Judith Marie Bell, was fatally shot on Feb. 29, 2008, in the bedroom of her home in the suburb just south of Dallas.

Vaughn told police an intruder shot Bell, but there were no signs of forced entry at the home.

Bell had been a special education teacher. Vaughn began teaching in Oklahoma City last year.

—  John Wright