WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Patty Owen smiles when she talks about her nephew Josh and she will qualify his "tough guy" look as nothing more than a cover to his true self: "a very polite boy."
To tell Josh's story she can't skip over what she calls their "dysfunctional family." It's what ultimately bonded the two together since he was often going to live with her during rough times at home.
"I knew when I looked at Josh back then that he would not have an easy life," she described. "He was the saddest looking child I had ever seen."
Still, Patty says he knew his manners and he knew right from wrong. However, in the time leading up to his death he did not always chose right. He was involved with drugs and had stolen guns from a relative.
Patty attributes much of it to a lack of positive attention as a child. Being a good child was not getting him anywhere but breaking the rules (and later committing crimes) netted results. Even if it was negative attention.
"When he went into the Army we were excited he was getting away from the people he was hanging with," Patty explained.
His Army career didn't last long. He was injured during jump school which is when the recreational drug use became an addiction to narcotic pain pills.
An interest in car engines and sales gave everyone new hope, including Josh. He had excelled in a technical program and got a job at a dealership. Everything was looking up.
"It wasn't until October of 2011 that things fell apart," Patty said.
The week before his death Josh posted on Facebook "I'm sorry" – and that was it.
"That was on Sunday and on Friday morning Josh decided he couldn't do it anymore," Patty said shaking her head.
He left another Facebook post expressing regret to his family. Patty was the first to respond in the comment section asking, "Josh, are you ok?"
There was no answer.
"Not more than 5 minutes later the phone rings and it's my sister in law – I couldn't answer," she said. "I knew what it was. I just let it ring."
At 8:05 a.m., just minutes before, Josh picked up a shotgun and went into his grandparent's bathroom. They were in the room next door.
He surrounded the area with pillows and wrapped himself in every blanket he could find in an effort to control the amount of blood and debris that would result from that kind of bullet. He even went so far as to turn on the shower to help wash away the mess.
Josh's grandmother was the one to find him.
"When she closes her eyes all she sees is the blood on the wall," Patty said.
Patty will always wonder why Josh had the sense to take measures to control the result of the gunshot mess but not the sense to ask for help.
For that reason she believes it was an impulsive choice.
"For seven years it's been part of my daily life to think 'How deep and how dark was that hole Josh was in that he didn't know how to get out or reach up and let someone help him get out of that hole?'" Patty asked.
Patty continues to count the losses. She will never meet the children he might have had. He will not be at her daughter's wedding. The community will never know him in the career he could have had.
The holidays are hard but the day-to-day mourning is where the most anguish lays.
Patty has lost interest in things that once brought her joy. She's stopped cutting her hair, something that now seems trivial. A medium is the only person who can bring a little light in her day as a line she believes can connect her to his spirit.
"If I could tell people who think they're at the end of the rope you're NOT," Patty pleaded. "There are plenty of people to talk to."
She says she's never understood how anyone could think life for others would be better without them. The tears, sorrow and guilt have consumer her life in a way that is left her unable to describe the magnitude of her heartbreak.
Rather than visiting a medium she would much rather be talking to Josh again in the living room. She hopes anyone dealing with suicidal thoughts will know the gravity of loss their absence will create and the joy they likely can't see that others have in having them in their lives.