Central Oregon Community College student James Morris, 27, of Bend died on Nov. 27, 2015. His death was a suicide.
Morris’ 2005 Hyundai Elantra had been pulled over for a broken taillight. The 27-year-old killed himself at a traffic stop on Badger Road in Bend with a firearm he had stolen from his grandmother’s house.
Morris had a troubled childhood. His parents were separated, and Morris went to live with his grandmother, Darlene Wilson, when he was four years old.
“He was a wonderful young man,” Wilson said. “He lived with me until he died. I was very active in his life, and he was the light of my life.”
As a youngster, Morris was a “really great hockey goalie, who loved the game,” Wilson said.
He was also an accomplished handyman, she added.
“He was bright and very capable,” Wilson said. “He installed my dishwasher. A couple days before he died, he mentioned was going to fix the squeaky fan belt on my car.”
Morris enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2008. He was deployed to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Morris would go on multiday convoy missions, where they would deliver personnel or supplies to different camps. They would often be out for several days, and there was always the danger of hitting an Improvised Explosive Device, or running into a suicide bomber.
On one occasion, Morris told his grandma, his convoy passed through a town and a suicide bomber ran toward the vehicles. The attacker detonated his bomb too soon and missed the convoy.
Morris was promoted to sergeant. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs labeled Morris 70 percent disabled after returning from active duty in 2013, according to an article published in the Bend Bulletin, due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, major depressive disorder and anxiety. His condition, according to the article, impaired his impulse control and rendered him unable to establish and maintain relationships.
Between 11 percent and 20 percent of veterans return from Afghanistan and Iraq with PTSD, according to a 2012 VA report.
Wilson encouraged Morris to talk to her about his war experiences, and he did share other combat experiences with her.
But Morris had problems re-adjusting to living in Bend. He showed classic symptoms of PTSD, Wilson, said, often walking the streets at all hours of the night.
He was enrolled in classes at Central Oregon Community College, studying automotive Technology. Wilson said Morris loved college and his classes, and was doing very well in them.
But other parts of his life were getting out of control. In October, Morris was arrested for shooting out windows at Cascade Middle School after hours, and charged with multiple counts of criminal mischief, recklessly endangering another person and unlawful use of a weapon. He made bail shortly after being arrested.
Toward the end, he was drinking heavily, Wilson said. Morris killed himself a week before his plea hearing.
Wilson said she is “crushed and my heart is broken.”
“I’m not doing well with this,” she said. “Two or three times a day I lose it completely. I keep thinking … if there was only something I could have done.”
Tim Cachelin | The Broadside