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One big question haunts Marine's suicide: Why?

By Paul Vercammen, CNN
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Questions surround Marine suicide
  • Former Marine Clay Hunt was surrounded by friends and went on humanitarian missions
  • He was in a public service announcement for suicide prevention
  • He took his own life two weeks ago; friends and family blame PTSD
  • Father: "We thought we had a young man here who was on the way back"

Westchester, California (CNN) -- On a poster board in a church at Loyola Marymount University, the image of former Marine Clay Hunt seemed to smile at about a hundred people.

Britney Holland had met Hunt at a veterans group on the cozy campus.

On Tuesday, the LMU alumna softly stepped onto the altar past Hunt's picture and began a eulogy.

"Someone described him as an American badass with a heart of gold," she said, and laughter echoed through the pews. "I think this (description) sums him up rather well. Clay chose to live his life for others. His passion and selflessness were an inspiration to all who knew him."

Two weeks ago Hunt killed himself in his Sugar Land, Texas, apartment.

Marine Corps brothers, Texas friends and family, and the schoolmates at LMU believe Hunt's suicide is a wake-up call for America. All ask, why?

Hunt was in a public service announcement for suicide prevention.


Hunt was surrounded by family and friends.


Hunt volunteered for Team Rubicon, traveling with veterans to Haiti and Chile on humanitarian missions after earthquakes.


"We thought we had a young man here who was on the way back," said his father, Stacy Hunt. "He turned his life around. Four days prior to his death he is holding his brand new baby niece, our granddaughter. He had bought a new truck. He was so excited. He was preparing to go on Ride 2 Recovery (a rehabilitation program for injured veterans). And three days later it's over. It's insidious."

Jake Wood, Team Rubicon founder, Hunt's partner in sniper school and his emotional sounding board, said his best friend suffered from various levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Wood stresses that Hunt was self-aware and actively sought help in exorcising the demons of war.

"He was looking for it," Wood said. "And so that makes it all the more tragic. He couldn't fight it any longer. And that is just scary. Because there are a lot of people who are a lot less well-adjusted out there, and they are not getting the help they need."

Clay Hunt served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, where he was wounded, shot through the left wrist on patrol near the wasp nest of battles, Falluja.

Hunt's mother, Susan Selke, a former Texas teacher projecting classroom calm, explained that four of her son's close friends, including a bunkmate, were killed during his service. Selke believes Hunt suffered from extreme survivor's guilt.

"In my mind, he is a casualty of war," she said. "But he died here instead of over there. He died as a result of his war experience. There is no doubt in my mind."

But Hunt's death will not be counted by the Pentagon as an official military suicide, since he left the Marines in 2009.

"That is a complete sham in my opinion," Wood said. "Part of Clay was killed in Iraq. Part of Clay was killed in Afghanistan, and the rest of him was killed in Houston, Texas. And if that is not reflected in military statistics, it's a shame."

A large memorial service, attended by 1,100 people in Houston last week, preceded the service at LMU on Tuesday.

Hunt attended LMU for a year and a half before the notoriously restless Texan either took a break or dropped out at the end of last year.

At the LMU church, two U.S. Air Force ROTC cadets, toy solider-stiff in their controlled reverent movements, unfolded an American flag, displayed the banner and refolded it into triangles. They presented two three-cornered flags to Hunt's parents.

Tears pooled up in 200 eyes.

The Hunt family wants no more flag presentations for vets suffering from PTSD who took their lives.

"One thing we have to do is learn as much as we can about PTSD," Clay's mother urged. 'How do we spot it early? How do we treat it? How do we make people not worried about any social stigma?"

"Clay was concerned for a while about not having that (PTSD-related issues) on his record, thinking for a while that it might affect him getting a job later," she said.

Hunt's parents and best friend Wood say the military needs to work as hard at getting the veterans readjusted and reintegrated back home after the war as it does training them before deployment.

Wood fired off a final volley.

"We owe too much to the men and women who have gone over to serve to just ferry them out the door after four years or eight years and say, 'Here's how you write a résumé. Go get a job and check in, in a couple years.' "