House of pain
Kenny Stafford came back from Iraq a changed man. He was never to heal, though, as he was killed by police on July 11, 2013.
The once social and gregarious man that Aimee Stafford met in ninth grade was withdrawn, didn’t want to hang out with friends. The caring, funny and strong warrior didn’t want to listen to music—he used to like everything but country—didn’t want to read his favorite fiction by the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, didn’t want to watch sports; the joy seemed drained from his life.
“He was trying to adjust back into civilization, and I figured he had saw and done some things over there that are probably hard to get past, so I just wrote it off as that,” said his widow, Aimee. “But then when we got transferred to Fort Lewis, Washington, that’s when he started losing a lot of weight. He couldn’t sleep. He wouldn’t eat. He would get agitated a lot, and he lost 65 pounds in six months.”
Kenny didn’t even want medical attention. His petite and pretty wife had to pester the 6-foot-3 soldier until he finally consented to see a doctor.
“They said he was depressed and put him on medication for that, and then they were doing some other things for PTSD,” she said. “And then we came up here to Reno for my brother’s year anniversary, and he was OK until the night of the anniversary of my brother’s murder.”
It’s a close-knit family, various races and combinations, but when somebody says brother or son, they’re not necessarily talking by blood. They’re just all so close they naturally call themselves by those names that are usually reserved for people who came from a single womb.
“Ryan [Connelly] was killed July 7th, 2012,” said the family matriarch Deana Crook. “He was murdered, and Kenny was very upset about the killer still running loose. He was angry about that. He was angry that they weren’t doing anything. He was very angry about all that.”
Connelly was killed in what has been theorized as a case of mistaken identity by a gangmember. The killer remains at large. Over the four days after the anniversary of his brother’s death, Kenny Stafford kept disappearing, so many times Aimee couldn’t count them. She was frantic, not knowing where he was. She only knew he was disturbed.
“He started asking around for a gun,” said Crook. “He asked my son—his brother—was asking him, ’Hey can you get me a gun?’ And my older son said, ’No. What do you need a gun for?’ And he said, ’For protection.’”
Even after a year, it’s hard to sit with these women in the small apartment off Wedekind Road, as they discuss their twin tragedies. Ryan’s ashes rest in a football-shaped urn on the end table between them. His photo perches upon it.
“I went over to check on Aimee that morning, the day he was killed,” said Crook. “I went over there, and I said, ’Is everything OK?’ She says, ’No, he’s acting strange. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. I’m worried. I’m worried. I’m worried.’ They called the VA to see what they can do. ’Can you get him some help?’ They said, ’Since he’s not with us—his stuff is in Washington—we don’t know what we’re going to have to do. You’re going to have to bring him down here.’ Aimee’s like, ’Do you understand he’s not going to come? Can’t we do something to bring him in there?’ And they told her, ’No.’’’
It was not long before Crook got a call from her best friend, Aimee’s mother, “Kenny’s got a gun.” The desperate Crook rushed down to Wedekind Road, but the police stopped her at the barricade. Only she and Aimee could talk Kenny out of his PTSD fugues, and the cops wouldn’t let her through. Frantic, she drove all the way around Clear Acre to McCarran then all the way down to El Rancho and then came back around to the other end of the blockade. Again, the police would not let her approach her son.
But then the Washoe County sheriff’s helicopter arrived, worsening his PTSD state with memories of Iraq, Crook surmised. The helicopter was setting him off.
“I knew that was going to be bad,” she said. “Well, he turned and asked for a cigarette. So one of the cops says, ’He wants a cigarette.’ And I’m thinking, ’OK, good, good, good.’ I said, ’See that little thing that he was talking on? Give me your microphone. Just let me talk to him. He’ll listen to me. He’ll snap out of it. He’ll know that he’s not in Iraq.’ He’ll go, ’What the fuck—what’s mom doing in Iraq?’ He’s going to understand. He’s going to know.
“They said, ’No, ma’am we can’t do that.’ And they were assholes, they were rude. They were obnoxious and they’re telling us, ’We know he’s sick. We know. We know.’ And they’re—they’re looking at you like you’re just … ’His role in Iraq, we know. We know.’
“And I’m like, ’Well, if you know, please don’t hurt him.’ So just as we got the cigarette, gave it to the one officer, the other officer gives it to another, and they open fired on him.
“He never got the cigarette.”
She believes he was never a threat to anyone: “Not even to himself. Not even himself. He never fired the gun once. They shot 22 rounds at him and hit him, was it 15, 16, 15 times. Head shots, too.”
“Seven, to be exact,” adds Aimee.
Few outside this close-knit family would question police putting down a mentally ill man with a gun. Anniversaries and birthdays have come and gone. Kenny Stafford would have turned 29 on August 17. Ryan Connelly was killed more than two years ago. Kenny’s wife and mother-in-law believe the police have a suspect in Ryan’s murder, but they also believe the cops are doing little. While they wait for some kind of closure, the women spend their time on Facebook, posting photos of their lost men, promoting their Justice for Ryan and Justice for Kenny pages, and wondering just how much pain one family is supposed to take.