2 Florida deputies die by suicide days apart, orphaning their 1-month-old son

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A Florida sheriff is highlighting the need for better mental health care for first responders after two of his deputies took their own lives this past week, leaving behind their 1-month-old son.

St. Lucie County deputies responding to a suicide attempt on New Year’s Eve found Deputy Clayton Osteen, 24, of Fort Pierce, who was rushed to a hospital. On Sunday, two days after he was hospitalized, Osteen’s family decided to remove him from life support, and he died.

Two days later, Deputy Victoria “Tori” Pacheco, 23, died by suicide, according to St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara.

“Words cannot express the tremendous loss we all feel after losing these two members of our Sheriff’s Office family,” Mascara said in a statement.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or go online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org to chat with someone who can help. The lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The couple’s son, Jayce Osteen, will be raised by a close family member, according to a GoFundMe page set up in his name. As of noon Friday, the page had raised more than $61,000 for the boy, well over the $10,000 goal.

Kelly Ridle, who set up the fundraiser, said Osteen’s suicide was “for reasons completely unknown and totally out of character.” Pacheco was “reeling from the shock of loss” when she took her life.

“Clayton and Victoria were joy-filled, first-time parents excited about their growing family, enamored with their baby, Jayce, and so in love with each other,” Ridle wrote.

Mascara described Osteen and Pacheco, who became deputies in 2019 and 2020, respectively, as “young, ambitious and a great compliment to (his) already amazing group of professionals.”

“To the general public, and sometimes even myself, it’s easy to view law enforcement as superhuman. But let’s not forget that they’re human, just like us,” Mascara said. “Law enforcement deal with not only the day-to-day stress we all face, but also the stress of those whom they serve in our community, which can sometimes be very challenging.”

>> Read more trending news

Osteen, who was named St. Lucie County Deputy of the Year in 2020, was a member of the agency’s SWAT team and had served as a U.S. Marine, according to his obituary.

“Clayton was one hell of a funny guy, someone you could always count on in the time of need and loved being an uncle,” his family wrote. “He absolutely adored his significant other and mother of his child. But of all his accomplishments, he was most proud of being a dad.”

A friend, Ray Tourville, shared photos on Facebook of Osteen in military gear.

“A true brother lost his internal battle. I struggle with finding the words to write that even remotely does him justice,” Tourville wrote. “I’m incredibly sorry that you felt this was your only option. I’m not a religious man but I know we will cross paths again.”

Pacheco was described by her family as confident, strong willed and fearless.

“She was always up for an adventure,” her obituary read. “She loved horseback riding, the beach, surfing, camping, hiking, skateboarding, sky diving and has even swam with sharks multiple times. She was daddy’s little girl and mommy’s angel.”

Click here to learn more about risk factors for suicide, as well as some of the potential warning signs.

Mental health is a vital topic when dealing with first responders. According to a Congressional Research Service report released last year, first responders are at a unique risk for mental health problems due to the nature of their jobs.

“Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical service personnel are often the first to respond to a crisis or emergency,” the report states. “As such, these first responders may experience significant stress and/or be exposed to traumatic events in carrying out their jobs. Compounded over time, exposure to stressful events may contribute to diminished mental health and wellness.”

There are often barriers keeping first responders from seeking treatment. Mental illness carries a heavy stigma, and law enforcement officers are often caught in a culture in which seeking help can have a negative impact.

In one study cited in the report, first responders discussed feeling that they cannot “show weakness” and seek counseling without the fear of being labeled as “not up to the job.”

There is a lack of comprehensive data on first responder suicides nationwide but, according to The Washington Post, one organization dedicated to mental health awareness in law enforcement has recorded at least 969 suicides of police and corrections officers since 2017.

“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 mental wellbeing and normalize the conversation about the challenges so many of us face on a regular basis,” Mascara said of his deputies’ deaths.

>> Read more public safety stories

Mascara’s agency was not the only Florida department mourning one of their own lost to suicide last week. On Dec. 30, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced the suicide the night before of longtime Deputy Christopher Former.

Deputies were called to a home where Former, 49, of Ruskin, had made statements to a family member threatening suicide. Former briefly spoke to the deputies before barricading himself inside.

Deputies and negotiators worked to bring Former out of his home peacefully,” Chronister said in a statement. “SWAT entered the home just after 11 p.m., and Former was discovered deceased inside from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Former, who was working as a community resource deputy, had been a deputy in Hillsborough County for 23 years.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or go online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org to chat with someone who can help. The lifeline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

On Air106.7 The Eagle - San Antonio's Only Classic Rock Logo

mobile apps

Everything you love about eaglesanantonio.com and more! Tap on any of the buttons below to download our app.

amazon alexa

Enable our Skill today to listen live at home on your Alexa Devices!