Dear Mr. President, please help my father - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Dear Mr. President, please help my father

Ashley DeLeon and her father. (Source: Ashley DeLeon) Ashley DeLeon and her father. (Source: Ashley DeLeon)
Ashley DeLeon's letter to the president. (Source: Ashley DeLeon) Ashley DeLeon's letter to the president. (Source: Ashley DeLeon)

When was the last time you sent a letter? Not an email or Facebook message, but actually sat down with pen and paper and wrote to somebody?

It's a dying art that wasn't lost on UNCW student Ashley DeLeon, who on Christmas Eve 2014 decided a letter was her only option to save her father.

That day was Rosendo DeLeon's breaking point. After serving 22 years in the Marine Corps and seven deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Ashley said her father was suffering from severe PTSD. She walked downstairs to find him pacing in their living room with a shotgun.

Rosendo started to shoot.

"I could smell the gunpowder as soon as I went down the staircase," Ashley said. "He had his shotgun and he was just pacing like an animal."

Jacksonville Police responded. No one was injured, but Ashley worried that next time she or her father could die.

“They took him to the hospital for an evaluation and they released him that day," she said. "He had given so much to his country and he was being rejected of the help that he needed.”

So, Ashley wrote to the only person she thought could help her, then President Barack Obama.

Dear Mr. President,

My father was a United States Marine for 22 years before retiring as a master sergeant. As part of the infantry, he deployed on six occasions. Each deployment, my father came back less and less like himself. [ ... ] But after he retired, my father was forgotten. [ ... ] He no longer had the brotherhood of fellow Marines; no one thanked him for his service; no one called to check on his well-being. He was diagnosed with severe PTSD and was medically disabled.

So he drank. And drank. [ ... ] He would drink all night, come back at 6 a.m., sleep all day and repeat the cycle.

I am a junior at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. [ ... ] Every day I would look in the mirror and see the remnants of him in my facial features. But the man that I resembled so much, the man who constituted half of me, wasn’t one that I knew any longer.

Christmas Eve was a rainy day in Jacksonville, N.C., Mr. President. I was taking a shower upstairs when I heard the first two shots. I knew it was him. As I jumped out of the shower and ran down the stairs in nothing but a towel I could see my father pacing in the living room with a shotgun in his hand and tears in his eyes. He yelled at me, his little girl: “Get the f*** out of my house! GET OUT! And in that moment I knew that I had two choices: to run and leave my little brother upstairs and my dad with a loaded weapon. Or to stay. I chose the latter. You see, I chose to stay in that room and fight over that gun because I knew that my dad was still in there somewhere. He had to be. As I struggled with my father, he shot. And shot. The small girl who grew up waving the American flag at her daddy’s homecomings yelled NOOOO from the bottom of her gut. Glass shattered. The dogs barked. [ ... ]

I didn’t care if I died, Mr. President. I’m 21 years old, and I would sacrifice myself without a second thought to save the man who raised me from taking his own life. Because when his country turned their back on him, I was still there. The light has long been gone from his eyes, but he is still my father. I am still his little girl. [ ... ]

I’m writing to ask you for your help. Not for my family, Mr. President. My family died that night. I’m asking you to help the others. The little girls and boys who have yet to see their mothers’ and fathers’ souls die away. They need help. Get them help. Don’t forget about them. They need you. Just like Sasha and Malia need you. They do.

With hope,
Ashley DeLeon
Jacksonville, N.C.

A few weeks later, Ashley got a response. Penned on White House Stationary, President Obama wrote back.

Ashley —

I was so moved by your letter. As a father, I can only imagine how heartbreaking the situation must be, and I’m inspired by the strength and perspective you possess at such a young age.

I am asking the V.A. to reach out to your family to provide any support that you need. And please know that beneath the pain, your father still loves his daughter, and is surely proud of her.

Barack Obama

"It gave me hope," Ashley said.

That hope was met with action. Ashley says a VA representative did call and her father was soon placed into a treatment program.

"Everything became a lot easier and all the resources became available," she said.

President Obama wasn't quite done with her letter. In February 2015, he read an excerpt before signing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. The law extends VA care for discharged or released combat vets. It also increases access to mental health care by creating peer support and outreach to assist transitioning service members.

"He told me that I saved him," Ashley said about her father. "I guess that would've been the turning point."

Rosendo was finally healing, but unfortunately he wouldn't live much longer. It wasn't his illness that killed him, but an accident. In May 2015, Rosendo was hit by an SUV while riding his motorcycle in Jacksonville.

"He's been through so much," Ashley said. "There's no way that he's gone on all these deployments and this is how he's going to pass away."

Ashley's story of loss, is now one of hope -- hope that a simple letter would save a man she refused to let go.

"I'll always be his little girl no matter how old I get," Ashley said.

Ashley is currently a master's student at UNCW, studying Marine Biology. When she sat down to write the President that rainy Christmas Eve, she never thought her letter would be read, let alone impact others. 

Well, it has. People all over the world read her letter when it was featured in the New York Times a few months ago.

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