SEBRING, Fla. — It's been one week since a gunman stormed Sebring's SunTrust Bank, taking five innocent lives. As the community recovers from that tragedy, Highlands County has suffered another devastating loss.
Sgt. Max Van D’Huynslager, who spent 15 years in law enforcement, took his own life Saturday, according to Sheriff Paul Blackman.
He leaves behind a wife and an 8-year-old daughter.
This week, the sheriff posted an emotional plea for his men and women behind the badge.
"To my fellow law enforcement officers, please resist the instinct to keep your emotions hidden," Sheriff Blackman stated in a video posted to Facebook. "Your career will not be in jeopardy if you ask for help."
Sheriff Blackman announced every deputy who responded to SunTrust or the Sgt. Van D'Huynslager's death will speak with members of a stress management team.
A local non-profit in Hillsborough County works to help first responders who may be struggling with suicide.
“There’s been a stigma that that you can’t open up, you can’t admit that something you saw is bothering you," said Brett Vaughn, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue investigator and member of Hook a Hero.
Members of Hook a Hero take first responders fishing, hunting, or are there for emotional support.
“Talking and releasing and just having a good day, you know, away from everything we deal with on the job," said Vaughn.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more officers die by suicide than in the line of fire. They estimate 140 law enforcement officers died by suicide in 2017.
"It's ok for something to bother you," said Vaughn. "It’s when it quits bothering you that there’s really going to be an issue.”
If you are struggling and contemplating suicide, there is help. Please reach out for support. You can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Additional resources can be found here .