This morning's NPS Digest is reporting that rangers are investigating two suicides that occurred in the Great Smoky Mountains during the last days of January.
On the afternoon of January 20th, dispatch received a phone call reporting a vehicle parked in the Newfound Gap parking area with a suicide note on the dash and a body of a man lying on the ground below the overlook who looked like he wasn't breathing. Rangers responded and found the man sitting at the base of a rock wall with an obvious self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. A large caliber revolver was recovered at the scene, and a suicide note was found in the victim’s vehicle parked nearby. Rangers were assisted on scene by Cherokee Tribal EMS and an NPS special agent.
The victim was a 56-year-old man from Florida. Next of kin were notified later that evening. Investigators determined that he’d placed the telephone call to park dispatch just prior to committing suicide. They also learned that he’d been charged with 22 counts of possessing child pornography and that his trial was scheduled to begin in Florida the following week. Ranger Mike Scheid is the case officer.
Ten days later, on the afternoon of January 30th, park dispatch received a report from two hikers of a man down on the Bradley Fork Trail and lying in a pool of blood. Rangers responded to the scene, which was a third of a mile up the trail from the Smokemont Campground. They found a man lying face down in the middle of the trail with a large pool of blood on the ground to his left. He had no vital signs and had an obvious gunshot wound behind the left ear. A loaded .40 caliber pistol was found at the scene. Additional ranger staff and an NPS special agent responded along with Cherokee Tribal EMS and Cherokee Fire Rescue. The victim’s vehicle was located at the Smokemont Baptist Church parking area and his wallet and a large sum of cash were found under the pulpit in the church. The victim was a 36-year-old man from South Carolina. No suicide note was found on his person or in the belongings recovered from his vehicle or the church. Next of kin were notified later that day. Ranger Carman Barnard is the case officer.
Also, on the evening of January 31st, Blue Ridge Parkway rangers were notified that a man had been found near the Frying Pan Ridge access who appeared to be in distress and had blood on his head. A U.S. Cellular contractor performing tower maintenance at the Frying Pan Ridge site found the man lying next to his vehicle. The man motioned to him for help, and the contractor went to his assistance. While doing so, he observed a revolver and the man’s wallet lying next to him. The 39-year-old Delaware man was taken to Mission Hospital and found to have a .38 caliber bullet lodged in his brain. It’s still uncertain whether surgeons will attempt to remove the bullet or let it remain. The investigation is continuing.