The police are not sure if is this veteran shot himself or not but all seem to agree PTSD was behind it all. Whether or not we as country care about PTSD and Diego Gonzales is another question.
Diego Gonzales wanted help.
It didn’t come in time for the 27-year-old Pecos High School graduate, who was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after two tours of duty in Iraq and another in Afghanistan as a U.S. Marine Corps sniper. He died late Tuesday in a shootout with police on Interstate 25 south of Santa Fe.
It’s still unclear whether the fatal shot came from state police or from Gonzales’ own gun. That won’t be determined until an autopsy is completed by the state Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque.
“He was owning up to the fact that he had problems he knew he had to fix to be the best dad he could be,” said Lawrence Lujan, a childhood friend who spoke on behalf of the Gonzales family. “He did his thing in Iraq, served this country, and did so honorably. God only knows what he saw. But he was affected deeply, and he was seeking treatment for PTSD.”
According to New Mexico State Police and Gonzales family accounts, after an argument about 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, Gonzales took his 26-year-old wife, Ashley Varela-Gonzales, who is nine months’ pregnant with the couple’s second child, and their 2-year-old son, Diego Jr., from a home in Pecos.
State Police Officer Bryan Waller, who has been with the department for two and a half years, responded to what was called in as a kidnapping. Waller tried pulling over Gonzales’ large, black Ford F-350 pickup as it headed down Interstate 25 toward Albuquerque, where Gonzales worked for the Transportation Security Administration at the Albuquerque International Sunport.
Man dead after shootout
The web is filled with stories like this but hardly none of them get into what is behind these actions other than to mention PTSD. These veterans, just like everyone else, have different reactions just as they have varying degrees of PTSD. Some commit suicide, some commit crimes, others end up living in the woods but most end up living out their days suffering while adapting to average life. They overcome the nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety and anger living as well as they can while a time bomb ticks away inside of them or is defeated.
A flashback, much like a nightmare, takes them away from where they are, safe in their house or car, and sends them back to combat. It is all there. The things they saw, voices they heard, scents they breathed in, the feel of the weapon they held and uniform they had on, the rain on their skin or heat from the sun, it is all there. These images blend with the world they live in today and it becomes hard to tell the difference. For some, these memories take over the way they think about everything.
On the extreme end of PTSD their thoughts can be irrational. Some of them will get a rush over buying something they want, so they repeat it by buying more things and end up in financial trouble. Normally they have a history of being very responsible with their money, paying bills on time and not spending beyond their means. They can be paranoid to the point where they think there is something behind everything that is said to them, people are out to get them or they are still in danger so they don’t feel safe in their own home. Patrolling the perimeter is common as they perform this nightly ritual making sure doors and windows are locked along with overblown reactions to every sound from outside. Short term memory loss makes them unable to remember conversations so when the paranoia kicks in they think something was said when it really wasn’t. They can’t remember if they took their pills or not, if they ate or not any more than they can remember they just hurt someone with what they said. They seek relief in all kinds of ways from drinking, to drugs, to buying things, porn, dangerous driving and extreme sports.
All of this can lead to the end of relationships. For some they walk away but for others, they believe they not only can get the person back into their lives, they can’t remember what they did wrong to lose them in the first place. Maybe that is what happened here because he was being treated for PTSD but we may never know. There has always been a thought that Marines trained as snipers are cold and calculated but they are not machines. They still feel things just like every other human does and there are limits to what even they can endure.
One of the saddest things to acknowledge is that there will be more reports like this for a very long time if Vietnam is any indication. We’re still reading reports about Vietnam veterans 40 years later.
Perhaps his sister put it best
“He wanted to be around his family and he was having a really hard time. (His wife) wanted to help him too but she didn’t know how to help him,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said she wants her brother’s children not to remember how he died, but how he lived.
“He was not a mean guy. He had the biggest heart. He was the type of guy who didn’t know a stranger. He would take anybody in,” Gonzales said.