Tragedy of young Florida deputy suicides grows deeper, raises serious concerns for LEOs

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The tragic story of two Florida deputies who ended their lives continues to grow sadder as the public learns more about the couple, and the accolades they were given in the line of duty.

Clayton Osteen, 24, a deputy for the Sheriff’s Office of St. Lucie County, Florida, attempted suicide for reasons still unknown to the public, this last New Year’s Eve. He failed, and was taken to a hospital where he was eventually taken off life support and died on January 2nd.

The tragedy didn’t stop there, as his partner, Victoria Pacheco, 23, who was also a deputy with the St. Lucie County Sherrif’s Department, ended her life as well at an unspecified time shortly afterwards, apparently distraught over losing Osteen. The two left their 1-month old son, Jayce, an orphan.

It turns out the two had been exemplary officers, honored for their service, which involved saving the lives of several others.

 

(Video: WPTV)

Osteen, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, had been Deputy of the Year in 2020, and his personnel file showed that he had personally saved someone’s life after performing CPR on a person who had overdosed on drugs, according to WPTV.

Pacheco, who had joined the Sheriff’s Office more recently, in 2020, had also been the recipient of an award that same year for being involved with saving another individual who had overdosed on drugs (not the same one as Osteen) in that year.

They weren’t even the only ones lost last week. Christopher Former, 49, who had been with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office for 23 years, ended his life on Wednesday. Friends said he had a passion for his work and was “a guardian at heart” who “wanted to protect people from those bad things out there.”

The series of suicides has caused many to ask questions about the mental health situation regarding law enforcement and other first responders.

Sheriff Ken Mascara of the St. Lucie Sheriff’s Office spoke in a statement about Osteen and Pacheco and the need for ensuring that law enforcement’s mental health is cared for and access to mental health resources is available and free of stigma:

“While it is impossible for us to fully comprehend the private circumstances leading up to this devastating loss, we pray that this tragedy becomes a catalyst for change, a catalyst to help ease the stigma surrounding well-being and normalize the conversation about the challenges so many of us face on a regular basis.”

Sheriff Chad Chronister spoke about Former’s death in a statement given this week:

“My deepest condolences go out to Deputy Former’s family and those that knew and loved him. While this is a very difficult time for our Sheriff’s Office family, it is times like this where we rely on each other and the community for support. Together we will grieve and try to make sense of what happened.”

The office of Governor Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida announced that $5 million from the Federal Crisis Counseling Program would be distributed to provide mental help resources for those affected and those potentially in need of said resources, and Florida first lady Casey DeSantis announced that $12 million will go towards expanding those services, according to WPTV.

There is a GoFundMe for the newly orphaned Jayce Osteen, as well as a collection being done at the St. Lucie Sheriff’s Office website. Any law enforcement struggling with mental health or thoughts of self-harm is encouraged to call COPLINE at 800-COP-LINE. The National Suicide Hotline is available at 800-273-TALK.

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