Murfreesboro father hopes soldier’s suicide will help others battling PTSD

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – The life of Sgt. John Toombs is the focus of his father’s Murfreesboro home.

The walls are covered in pictures of the Rutherford County native and the soldier’s patches are displayed on the mantle alongside the 32-year-old’s ashes.

“He took on a job that most people wouldn’t imagine,” David Toombs told News 2 of his son.

Sgt. Toombs served six years with the Army National Guard. He spent part of 2011 and 2012 in Afghanistan.

When Sgt. Toombs returned home to Murfreesboro, his father said his son seemed proud.

“He was on top of the world,” David Toombs said. “I hear that happens a lot as soon as veterans come back from deployment. They’re still riding that wave of, you know, I was part of something bigger. I was part of a team.”

When Sgt. Toombs didn’t re-enlist in 2014, David Toombs said his son seemed different.

“Nothing had value to him. He would give things away,” his father recalled. “Anytime he’d go into a restaurant or a bar, he would make sure that he had a view of the door. And if he was asleep, you woke him up very carefully. If you startled him, then he would jump straight up, ready to fight.”

From there, the situation seemed to spiral out of control.

Sgt. Toombs spent three weeks in jail following a DUI arrest.

“He said, you know I think I may have PTSD or something going on because I’ve got to have some kind of substance or alcohol to you know keep whatever it is at bay,” David Toombs said.

After entering a 90-day treatment program for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction at the Murfreesboro VA Hospital, the elder Toombs said his son was “abruptly kicked out.”

Following his removal from the program in November 2016, Sgt. Toombs posted an emotional video to his Facebook page.

“I came for help and they just threw me out like a stray dog in the rain,” Sgt. Toombs said in the video. “I feel very blessed. Thank you all very much. I love you all. Some of you I love more than the whole wide world.”

“It was pretty heart wrenching because there was my son basically saying goodbye,” David Toombs described of his son’s video.

The day before Thanksgiving 2016, Sgt. Toombs was found dead on the hospital campus.

“He had hung himself with a bed sheet in a building under construction behind the dormitory he was kicked out of,” David Toombs said. “In his suicide letter, he actually wrote a line there that said this may save some lives, I surely hope.”

One year later, David Toombs said rather than grieve, he has stayed focused on spreading his son’s story in an attempt to help at least one other soldier from suffering in silence.

News 2 reached out to the Murfreesboro VA Hospital for comment on Sgt. Toombs’ removal from the program.

Chris Vadnais, the Public Affairs Officer with Tennessee Valley Healthcare System responded saying, “We have no statement for you at this time.”

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