Scars of service are inflicted on military families

Rory Gavic, of Eagan, was a skilled dog handler and a committed Air Force soldier who was well liked by his fellow troops, the St. Cloud Times says today. “He loved animals, especially his military working dog, Allan. In photos, he’s seen crouched down next to the burly tan and black German shepherd.”

He serviced in Iraq and Pakistan, but he was a changed man when he came home, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2009, he shot and killed himself, leaving behind two brothers and a stepsister, his stepfather and his heartbroken mother.

Nearly four years to the day later, after rejecting help from her sister (whose own son had taken his life) Gavic’s mother shot herself in the heart, the same as her son had.

Debbie had now lost three close family members to suicide.

“How a person gets saddled with that level of tragedy in their life — it’s just hard,” said Mitch Weinzetl, who has left the Buffalo police department and now teaches criminal justice at St. Cloud State University.

Weinzetl worked with Debbie Larsen on the Wright Mental Health coalition. He said he can’t fathom what she has been through — and how she keeps going.

“I try to envision myself having a close friend who committed suicide and I think about how impactful that would be for me. Then I try to consider what it would be like to have my own child do that. And a nephew, and a sibling.

“It takes me beyond my capacity to understand how someone maintains some measure of normalcy in their life without being just completely shut down with that kind of tragedy,” Weinzetl said. “Deb has managed remarkably to channel those life tragedies into … a measure of societal benefit.”

The Times profiles Debbie Larsen today as part of its series, “Scars of Service.” She’s become a passionate advocate for suicide awareness and prevention.

“Their voices are silent now,” she told the Times. “I feel like I have become that voice. I have to be that voice. It’s like I’m fighting for them. It’s like I’m fighting for everyone who’s struggling.”