Monday, August 19, 2013 11:07 PM
Ex-soldier sought suicide
Parents: Man police shot is veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
A knife-wielding man police shot outside a Wilson home last week is an Army veteran who was attempting suicide after a long struggle with depression, his parents say.
Ryan Arcenio Borunda stood in the cul-de-sac outside his family’s Rand Road home clutching a knife after suffering a combat flashback last Thursday. "Go ahead and shoot me,” the 26-year-old’s father says he told police.
"I said, ‘My son is trying to get you to kill him. Don’t shoot him,’” Johnny Borunda recalled. "He was told to drop the knife. My son never dropped the knife.”
Within seconds, Officer Donald Lucas fired a single shot, striking Ryan Borunda in the stomach.
Borunda’s parents don’t fault police for using deadly force to stop their son, who they say wanted to die after a painful divorce and years-long battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I’m not placing blame on the police officer who was put in an unfortunate situation and did what he had to do,” Johnny Borunda said. "I’ll go on the record to thank him and commend him. He did what he had to do, but he pretty much saved my son’s life.”
The State Bureau of Investigation is examining the shooting, which is standard practice when a police officer uses deadly force. State law allows officers to use lethal force if they reasonably believe their life or another person’s life is in imminent danger or to prevent a convicted felon from escaping.
Borunda survived the shooting and police obtained an involuntary commitment order to have him hospitalized for mental health treatment, Capt. Tad Shelton said Friday.
Ryan Borunda tried killing himself by overdosing on drugs earlier this year, his parents said.
Johnny and Carmen Borunda don’t condone their son’s behavior, but they acknowledge he’s fought an exhausting emotional battle and say the U.S. Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs have repeatedly let him fall through the cracks of a broken military mental health system.
"I’m not making excuses for what my son did — it was wrong,” Johnny Borunda said. "But there’s always reasons why things happen. Thousands of families are suffering over this.”
CRIES FOR HELP
A Farmville Central High School graduate, Ryan Borunda enlisted in the Army at age 19, a fourth-generation soldier. He fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, serving multiple deployments with Army infantry and intelligence units.
"By talking to him on the phone, I knew there was a problem,” Johnny Borunda said, "and he was 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 miles away.”
In December 2009, Borunda was assigned to the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade, 1st Battalion, 38th Cavalry Regiment, Alpha Co., which is stationed at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville.
His parents said — and court records confirm — that Borunda’s first run-in with the law came in January 2010, when he was charged with assault inflicting serious injury in Pitt County. He was convicted of the charge three months later and received probation.
Soon after his son’s arrest, Johnny Borunda said he went to Fort Bragg and told a non-commissioned officer in his son’s unit that he had concerns about his mental state.
"The military, because of his career and what he was doing in the military as a steady performer, his chain of command swept it under the rug,” Johnny Borunda said, lifting the corner of an area rug in his living room for emphasis.
"They were well aware of his problem,” Johnny Borunda said of officers in his son’s unit.
Now divorced, Ryan Borunda was married with three young children. His parents said a rocky marriage and guilt over being away from his kids aggravated his depression and anxiety.
Johnny Borunda said a chaplain in his son’s unit had provided some counseling, but Ryan Borunda resisted telling commanders about his mental state.
"Most military guys, they’re not going to seek that help because they think it’s a sign of weakness,” he said.
Carmen Borunda knows the Ryan who came home from war isn’t the same son she watched grow up in the couple’s former home in rural Pitt County between Greenville and Farmville.
"He has not been the same person since he came back,” she said. "It’s progressing to where he doesn’t want to live. He needs treatment. He needs help.”
Ryan Borunda was stationed in Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Wash., when he left the Army this January at the rank of specialist. After seven years in the military, he came home to Greenville with physical and mental scars.
Borunda’s parents said he suffered a back injury when an improvised explosive device hit a vehicle in his unit’s convoy and he was thrown from the back of a Stryker armored vehicle in Iraq in 2009. He received treatment at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Durham.
Borunda’s mom said the adjustment to civilian life and the loss of his family through divorce made him increasingly depressed. He didn’t like asking for help and thought "sucking it up” was the only way to deal with his problems.
"The guy went into the military at 19 years old,” Carmen Borunda said. "That was his career. That’s all he knew to be a man. He didn’t let it out the way he should have, and whenever he’d start feeling like he wanted to cry, he’d self-medicate. That’s how he dealt with it.”
Borunda was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at the VA hospital on an outpatient basis, his parents said, but VA doctors didn’t seem to grasp the severity of his mental illness.
Three months ago, Borunda overdosed on pills in an attempt to commit suicide. His parents said he was in a coma for two days in the VA’s intensive care unit. They expected a long-term commitment so that he could better manage his PTSD, but said doctors released him a day after he woke up.
"We thought that they were going to put him in a program for PTSD,” Johnny Borunda said. "As parents of an adult son, we have no recourse. It isn’t like we can demand they keep him.”
‘HE NEEDS HELP’
Ryan Borunda lived in Greenville but would often come visit his parents, who moved into their Wilson home in 2006. The Borundas said their son was depressed and had stayed with them for two days when he picked up a knife last Thursday.
Emergency dispatchers told police there had been a stabbing. Borunda’s parents said the only person he had intended to hurt was himself.
"I was never in fear for my life,” Johnny Borunda said. "He never charged at me — I am his dad. He was just telling me, ‘I don’t want to live, I don’t want to live!’ and when the police came, ‘I’m going to get them to shoot me.’”
Johnny Borunda said he tried to get the knife away from his son and cut his finger on the blade. Ryan Borunda’s brother also sustained minor cuts in the struggle.
"I went to grab the knife from him,” Johnny Borunda recalled. "I went to grab the tip and I cut myself.”
Carmen Borunda’s voice trembled as she discussed how her son has changed. Once trim and taut with a passion for working out, Ryan Borunda had gained weight, let his hair grow long and didn’t groom himself.
"I’m trying to get him to want to live, but he can’t do this himself,” she said. "He needs help. He’s my boy and I want him to want to live.”
The Borundas said they decided to share their son’s private struggle with the public to bring attention to the growing problem of military suicides and suicide attempts due to depression and PTSD.
"We wanted to do this for Ryan and for everybody,” Carmen Borunda said. "We need to speak out. We’re private people, and we just want to go on with our lives, but it’s our duty.”
In 2012, the number of active-duty suicides hit a record-high 349, topping the number of American troops who died in combat that year.
"I’ve seen it so much,” said Johnny Borunda, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division and left the Army in 1999 at a senior enlisted rank. "It’s not an isolated incident. It’s happening all over the place. Here it’s hitting home.”
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