One Year Later, Memory of Iowa Veteran Lost to Suicide Still Alive


Curtis Gearhart and Valesca Steffens (WHO-HD)

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IOWA  --  It's been one year since the death of Curtis Gearhart, a combat engineer who took his own life after returning home from two tours in Iraq.

On Tuesday night, a vigil marked the somber anniversary for his friends and family. The vigil was the work of Operation Middle Ground, a nonprofit that advocates for military personnel and their families dealing with suicide and PTSD.

"We knew his pain, we knew it. He didn't always show other people. He showed other people the big tough guy. His family knew things were wrong, things were bad," said Gearhart's mother Joni Frette. "Curtis was very epic in life. I mean people that knew him, that would be a good word for him, epic. He never did anything halfway, it was all the way. And that is exactly what Operation Middle Ground is doing."

Gearhart's former girlfriend is reminded of his smile every day. She found out she was pregnant with his child just days after his death.

Channel 13's Justin Surrency talked to Valesca Steffens about how the birth of their son gave her new life.

"Last year at this time I talked to him for the last time," said Steffens.

On November 7, 2017, Steffens found out Gearhart had committed suicide in the home they shared.

"Sometimes I think about this morning last year, and today was just like reliving it all over again," she said.

PTSD has left Gearhart's loved ones with unanswered questions.

"It's been rough," said Steffens.

Steffens gave birth to their child named Bronson in July. The father of her child may be gone, but Steffens says she sees him every day.

"Everything from the eyes up looks just like him, so when I see Bronson, I see Curtis," she said.

Giving life may have saved her own.

"I think being pregnant helped me focus on something and not rot in a pool of just anguish."

The pain Curtis' family has dealt with because of veteran suicide is one families are experiencing daily.

"I don't know really why they're not getting the help that they need, but it's 22 a day, so what is that, like, just over one an hour," said Steffens.

This means parents are burying their sons or daughters and children are growing up without their mothers or fathers.

"We watch videos daily, I show him pictures, I let him listen to voicemails, not that he really recognizes much, but I'm hoping that maybe he'll learn his voice and his face."

It's a face Steffens can never forget, and thanks to Bronson and the love she shared with Curtis, she won't have to.

"Now I will always have a piece of Curtis with me."

Steffens and Bronson have moved from the metro and are living with Steffen's parents in southeast Iowa.


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