Saturday, August 1, 2009

Update: Suspect in Provost Murder Completes Suicide

The suspect in the murder of Seaman August Provost III completed a suicide in his cell at Camp Pendleton yesterday. He had been charged on July 23 (and I apologize for not bringing that to you -- I was on an Amtrak train with no internet access).

For those of you just joining this story (feel free to read the previous Quarterbacking on this topic), Provost was standing sentry at Camp Pendleton in the wee hours of June 30 when he was shot and his body set on fire. His family suspected a hate crime, since Provost was either bisexual or homosexual, depending on which article you read, and he had complained to them of being harassed both because of his sexual orientation and because of his race. The Navy said there was no evidence of a hate crime. They also failed to tell his family how he died -- they heard about it on the news.

The official story is that the suspect went on a really bad trip from hallucinogens sometime in May, and it was all downhill from there. He broke into a sailor's home and stole a gun and an xbox, and was pulled over in mid-June for driving while intoxicated. Provost allegedly confronted him as he was trying to set fire to a Navy landing craft, although there was no apparent motive for him wanting to set that fire. The Navy has said it was "part of a crime spree."

And now the suspect is dead. You might think that Provost's family would be glad he was dead -- an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But victims and their families rarely feel that way. They may well want to see the perpetrator put to death, but death without a conviction is symbolically difficult, because it means he will never officially have been punished for what he did. In this instance, the family also will not have the opportunity to find out whether there was a race- or sexuality-based motive. From their point of view, the truth died with the suspect. And I'm sure there are conspiracty theorists out there who find the suicide of the suspect just a little too convenient for the Navy.

I am not one of them. I believe that most people have a conscience, and that living with that conscience when the drugs or the alcohol or the rage wears off is pretty difficult. I have no difficulty believing that this suspect felt he couldn't live with himself. Now his family, as well as the Provost family, are left with the aftermath.

(Two notes on usage: I use the term "completed the act of suicide" or "completed a suicide" because it most accurately describes what happened. If you think about it, "completed" is the natural extension of "attempted," which we commonly use to describe someone who tried to kill him or herself and did not die. The more common "committed suicide" is somewhat euphemistic, and I try whenever possible to use plain language, particularly when dealing with issues around death. I also try to avoid the terms "successful" or "unsuccessful," because they imply that suicide is a goal to be attained, and I never say "took his own life" because, again, that is euphemistic -- where did he take it?

You may also have noticed that I never name suspects or perpetrators in this blog. This represents my value that those who kill others should not in any way be made the center of the story, particularly in a blog about trauma.)


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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