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By Setareh Jalali
Two more police officers who responded to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol have died by suicide, doubling the toll of officers who have taken their life after guarding the building that day.
Officer Gunther Hashida was found dead in his home on July 29th, according to Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) spokesperson Kristen Metzger. Just hours later MPD confirmed that another officer, Kyle DeFreytag, died by suicide earlier in July.
Hashida was an 18-year veteran with the MPD, while DeFreytag had been with the department since November 2016. MPD Officer Jeffrey Smith and U.S. Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood also responded to the Capitol riot and died by suicide in the days after the event.
MPD has declined to release video from Smith’s body camera, but it is known that he was hit in the head with a metal pole during the confrontation, and later reported to the Police and Fire Clinic, where he was given ibuprofen and sent home. His wife says that after that day he slipped into a deep depression. Only eight days later, on his way to his first day back to work, he shot himself in the head.
Jonathan Arden, a former chief medical examiner for the District of Columbia was hired to review Jeffrey Smith’s autopsy and medical records for his wife. According to the New York Times, he concluded that the “dramatic change” in Smith’s demeaner is strong evidence that his time at the riot was the “precipitating event leading to his suicide.”
Officer Liebengood had to work long shifts for the three days after the riot, according to his wife, Serena Liebengood. She described him in an open letter to Representative Jennifer Wexton of Virginia as “severely sleep-deprived” in those days. He killed himself after the third shift.
Of the hundreds of other officers who reported to the Capitol on that January day, many have given tearful testimonies of what they experienced. Last week Capitol Police sergeant Aquilino Gonell highlighted the traumatizing effect of the confrontation to a House of Representatives’ select committee investigating the attack. According to the Washington Post, Gonell described fighting “hand-to-hand” with rioters, thinking to himself that that was the moment he was going to die.
MPD officer Michael Fanone told the committee he was repeatedly tased as rioters chanted “kill him with his own gun.” After the event, Doctors diagnosed him with a concussion, traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
All four testifying officers told the committee that they were beaten, threatened, and taunted with racial slurs. They described the anxiety and PTSD that they’ve struggled with since the event, and the survivor’s guilt that’s haunted them after five people died at the riot, 1 of them an officer and the other 3 rioters.
If you or a loved one have contemplated suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.