Nearly a week ago, an apparent suicide-by-cop rocked San Ramon, a city rarely touched by violent crime.
Days later, on Sunday, authorities reported that a well-known Danville man tried to take his life by ramming his car into a utility pole.
Both events come five months after a 14-year-old Amador Valley High School student jumped in front of a moving train in Pleasanton and was killed.
All were very public acts of apparent suicide, or attempted suicide, that affected not just the family and friends of the victims but the larger community as well.
To try to put these incidents in context, Patch contacted local mental health groups, including the Contra Costa Crisis Center, for tips on how to spot the warning signs that a person may be suicidal and for information on how to cope with the loss of a loved one.
"Suicide is a very complex behavior, there's usually no single sign that is telltale," said John Bateson, director of the crisis center. "But there are certain clues that are more telltale than others."
Some of those signs are obvious, like a person withdrawing from friends and family or going through some extreme behavioral change or altering their personal appearance. Some battling suicidal thoughts will give away their possessions, make comments about how they feel useless in life or, often in young people, express suicidal feelings in art, Bateson said.
"There's no one way to tell," he said. "You have to look at the bigger picture."
In Contra Costa County, reported suicides have increased 33 percent since 2008, according to the crisis center. That's from 95 to 125 a year.
Bateson attributes some of that increase to the recession. Unemployment rates and suicide attempts have historically risen together, he said, though they often go unreported by families, whether it's for the stigma around it or for insurance purposes.
More often than not, suicide is inexplicable, or the result of a maelstrom of mental pain, stress or illness, Bateson added. The elderly, who have the highest suicide rate of any group, according to the Centers for Disease Control, may struggle to deal with their failing health and increasing dependence on others. Or, a young person may feel pressure from their families to keep up good grades.
"There's a myth that the most at-risk to suicide are the bad kids," said Bateson. "But more often than not, we see it's the straight-A student, it's the kids who have never flunked a test, and suddenly, if something bad happens, they haven't developed strong enough coping mechanisms to deal with it."
It's unclear what motivated 24-year-old Joe Baumgarnder to point his 9mm at San Ramon police a week ago, or what led 30-year-old local school teacher Leif Bostrom to steer his car at 70 mph into a pole over the weekend.
Some close to Baumgardner said they knew he had recently battled personal anguish. And, according to some of those friends, his family tried to get him help.
Bateson said that many times the psychology behind suicide-by-cop is that the person wants to put their lives in someone else's hands. They know that police are trained to shoot when threatened with a gun, so they use that knowledge so they don't have to pull the trigger.
Not much is known about the Danville case, but the California Highway Patrol said a note was left in Bostrom's home and that when witnesses to the crash tried to help him, he resisted their efforts. He was taken to the hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries.
Family of those who kill themselves, in many cases, look back at what the victim said, or how they acted, for missed signs of suicidal thoughts, said Bateson.
"Invariably, it is such a complicated mindset that unless you've been suicidal, it's difficult for someone of normal thinking to see that point of view," he said. "The best we can do is let people know that there is help."
At a glance
- If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, there are people who want to help you. Call 24-hour suicide hotlines at 800-SUICIDE or 800-273-TALK. The local hotline is 800-833-2900.
- For those who already lost a love oned to suicide, there is a separate grief hotline at 800-837-1818.