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Family of Flagstaff police officer who died by suicide speaks out for the first time

Officer Daniel Beckwith became one of 228 police officers across the country to die by suicide in 2019. His family doesn’t want him to be just another statistic.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — It was a decision that would change everything.

On February 9, 2018, someone in Flagstaff called 911. When Flagstaff Police Officer Daniel Beckwith showed up, he quickly found a suspect waving a gun in the air.

“If you have a gun, do not reach for it,” Beckwith said. “Drop the gun! Drop what is ever in your right hand now!”

“That is definitely a gun,” said another Flagstaff officer who responded to the scene.

“That is a gun!” Beckwith said.

Credit: Flagstaff PD

For nearly five minutes, body camera footage shows Beckwith demanding the suspect drop the gun.

“If you bring that up one more time I will shoot you! Drop it!” Beckwith yelled. “Sh** I’m going to have to fire.”

Beckwith was left with no other choice. He fired shots that would ultimately kill the suspect.

“F***. Down! F***,” Beckwith yelled.

An investigation found Beckwith did nothing wrong. The shooting was justified. But that didn’t matter. Beckwith’s life would never be the same.

Credit: 12 News

“He says, 'Uh, I think I want to be a cop.' This was right after the Air Force. And I said why? And he says, 'Well, that’s what you do,'” said Beckwith’s stepfather Bill Mitchell.

Mitchell reflected on his son’s career in an interview with 12 News.

“DJ and I always stuck together,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell noted the change he saw in Beckwith after the shooting.

“It had a huge impact,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said at first, Beckwith did and said whatever he could to get back to work.

“That’s when I explained to him about the boomerang. I said if you’re not going to deal with it now, just understand that it’s going to come back around,” Mitchell said. 

“The person that he shot was ingrained in him. Every time he would drive down the street, he’d say, 'Dad, he’s in my mirror.'”

RELATED: 'Change the culture:' Arizona police officers open up about PTSD in 12 News survey

Daniel went on leave and spent time at his home in Mesa. But things got worse.

“He just kept spiraling. Mainly because of the disconnect in law enforcement," Mitchell said. 

"That is something is wrong with you, it’s the blue flu. Nobody wants to be around you. It really hit home with him that it’s not the thin blue line he expected. It’s even thinner when you say you’ve got a problem," he continued.

“You’ve bled, you’ve sweat, you’ve been side-by-side with people through life and death situations and for them just to take off and abandon you, that hurts to the core.”

“How do you respond to that?” asked 12 News Reporter Bianca Buono in an interview with Flagstaff Police.

“I respect Mr. Mitchell’s opinion but I think there were some other things that were put into place that were out of our control as far as with him moving as well so it did make it difficult,” said Sgt. Charles Hernandez, a public information officer for the Flagstaff Police Department. 

"But I believe the City of Flagstaff and the chief all the way down through patrol did what we could within our power to make sure that we were available anytime he needed something."

Credit: 12 News

On March 12, 2019, just over a year after the shooting, Mitchell got the worst call of his life.

“He says, 'Just meet us at the substation.' And I had knew what the outcome was going to be,” Mitchell said.

At just 28 years old, Beckwith died by suicide.

“He lived a life of service,” Mitchell said.

Beckwith's family is still trying to cope. But they don’t want the young officer to have died in vain. 

Beckwith was one of 228 police officers across the country who took their own lives in 2019.

Mitchell believes police departments, including Flagstaff, need to change.

“They’re going to have officers that have trauma and it’s not always going to be a visible trauma,” Mitchell said.

Credit: 12 News

At the time of Beckwith's death, Hernandez says there were resources available. He said there was a mandatory debrief of officers involved in the 2018 shooting. Beckwith went through a fitness for duty evaluation in order to return to work, which he passed.

Since Beckwith's death, Flagstaff Police Department has created a new program called Police Awareness Support Services, or PASS. It launched in June 2019.

RELATED: Arizona officers diagnosed with PTSD due to high-stress situations can claim workers' comp

“What that does is it brings in house a professional that’s able to provide counseling services and evaluations. So it doesn’t necessarily require an employee to go to a place where they may be seen and someone may report that, ‘Hey this officer or employee was going into this counseling service,’ implying that something may be wrong. It just provides an in-house, anonymous place for them to meet. It’s not within our walls of our agency but it is in house and it provides an avenue and and outlet for people to de-stress and be able to be fit to perform the duties of a law enforcement officer,” Hernandez explained.

Since June 2019, every single appointment has been filled.

Credit: 12 News

Hernandez says the department has an employee assistance program which allows officers to get six free, anonymous counseling sessions.

The department is also working with the 100 Club of Arizona to make an app available to first responders so they have quick, immediate access to a counselor and not have to wait.

“I think we need to break the stigma and say it’s okay to not be okay. And I think a lot of times we forget that we’re people too and we’re community members. We have the same issues as everyone else in the community,” Hernandez said. “The last thing we want to do is attend an officer’s funeral. And if we can try to prevent some of the mental health aspect of that then that’s for the best.”

On Monday night on 12 News at 10 p.m., the I-Team will take a closer look at some of the internal struggles officers face and how difficult it can be for them to get help.