In life Colm Fox inspired his work colleagues. Three months on from his death, he's doing it still.
"He was our rock," says Ann Power. "He was a doer."
But one Saturday night last February, Fox, a detective superintendent for the Dublin North division of An Garda Síochána and at the time the lead investigator into the high profile Regency hotel murder which was at trial, was working late inside Ballymun Garda station when he took his own life. As a result the trial was adjourned to July while the trial authorities worked out how to proceed.
As an officer Fox was highly regarded within the force, and was an involved and happy husband and proud father. His death, and the manner of it, deeply troubled those who worked with him.
“I never got news as shocking in all my life,” Assistant Commissioner Barry O’Brien, who spoke at Fox’s funeral, said this week.
No one has a cast-iron explanation as to why their friend killed himself, and they are not into speculating. But they are determined that his death should be used to help focus attention on the curse that is suicide.
To that end, Power, a detective garda in the National Protective Services Bureau; together with Audrey Dormer, an inspector stationed in Carlow; Pat Fagan, a detective garda based at Dublin Airport; and Cathal Comiskey, a detective garda based in Crumlin, are taking part in Cycle Against Suicide (CAS).
Run to coincide with Darkness Into Light, Pieta House’s annual fundraising day on May 12th, Cycle Against Suicide is this week staging cycling events in 17 counties (North and South), taking in 67 towns across 40 locations and covering some 750km. The cycle (route details can be read online at cycleagainstsuicide.com) began last weekend, and continues across the May Bank Holiday weekend.
Asking for help
One of the CAS organisers is also a garda, Sgt Brendan Tighe from Tallaght, who is a director and trustee of the organisation. It aims to raise awareness about suicide, and help break down barriers to talking about it and about asking for help.
Their motto is: “It’s okay not to feel okay; and it’s absolutely okay to ask for help.”
Tighe says gardaí have – unfortunately – a special relationship with suicide. Quite simply, that is because “we see so many”, as he puts it.
There are over 800 suicides a year in Ireland, and gardaí, if not first on the scene, are almost invariably involved at a very early stage, investigating what happened, helping family members cope, liaising with medics during postmortems, and piloting cases through the inquest process.
“You build up a [coping] barrier over the years,” he says, “but young people...that’s really hard to deal with.”
Power was 13 years in the drug squad, part of the time based in Sundrive Road Garda station where Colm Fox was her boss. She was one of the younger gardaí there known as Foxy’s Cubs.
“He was our sergeant; he’d fight our corner,” she recalls. “He was a real outgoing, positive kind of guy.”
Mentoring grew into friendship that extended outside work, and Fox was routinely a guest at important family occasions, such as weddings.
“It wasn’t just work with him. He was very involved is his family, in scouts and things like judo. He was our rock alright; even 20 years after we worked together and were doing different things, you’d still go to him [for advice].”
And it is that bond – personal and professional – forged over many years that makes the manner of Fox’s death all the more difficult for those who knew him but worry now that they might have missed something and could have helped him.
“Suicide is a unique sort of bereavement,” says Power. “I’ve had friends that have died but none [before Fox] through suicide. There’s that ‘what if’ factor – what if I’d texted him just before, or called him or run into him and we’d had a conversation? Would it have made a difference?”
She and Tighe feel the barrier surrounding mental health needs to be broken – and in a direct manner.
“Just come out with it,” she says, “if you think someone is unwell, is perhaps suicidal, come out with it; ask them if they are feeling that way, and help them get talking about it.”
Over next weekend Fox’s four former comrades in arms will cycle from Ballina in Co Mayo (where he once served), across the country to Swords in Co Dublin, joined for part of the way by Assistant Commissioner O’Brien.
Along the way they hope to spread a more hopeful message in memory of their friend – a message that just might help someone who is struggling, as he did, in silence.
If you are affected by any of these issues you can contact Samaritans by telephoning 116123 for free, texting 087-2609090 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or Pieta House: 1800 247 247