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Questions remain about father and daughter who jumped from bridge

Updated: 2013-03-24T03:19:35Z

By CHRISTINE VENDEL

The Kansas City Star

Even though they’d battled depression, say those who knew them, any crisis had seemed to be over.

Still it appears the father and daughter held hands and then jumped Thursday from the Bond Bridge.

The 29-year-old daughter talked about suicide a year or two ago, a friend said. But her mother had been in close contact with her recently and heard no such talk.

So the news that they drove more than 30 miles from their single-wide mobile home in Peculiar to fling themselves off a bridge, landing in water 120 feet below, stunned friends and relatives who thought the daughter had won her battle.

Adding to their shock was that her father apparently joined her instead of trying to save her.

In the past, the father, who lived with his daughter, had called his ex-wife when their daughter was struggling. Together they would devise solutions to help the young woman. Not this time.

“This has literally blown me away,” the mother said. “I’m just numb.”

Kansas City police believe the woman was clutching her Chihuahua-mix dog named Skeeter in a blanket when she jumped. Onlookers initially thought she was holding a baby.

Police have not released the names of the presumed victims. They found the woman’s pickup truck abandoned on the bridge. Inside was her father’s cellphone. But investigators did not find suicide notes in the truck or in their home. And they have not recovered any bodies.

Because police have not confirmed the deaths, the woman’s mother does not want her daughter’s name published. She has kept in touch with investigators who plan to use sonar or divers this week to try to find the bodies.

The daughter grew up in Harrisonville with a brother. Their parents divorced when she was young. She participated in Girl Scouts, always entertaining their leader.

“Field trips weren’t the same without her,” the leader told her mother.

But the daughter struggled with reading in school and took special-education classes to help her keep up. Other students made fun of her because of that, said Ryan Wheale, one of her friends.

Still, she was the first to reach out to Wheale when he moved to town.

“When I came to Harrisonville, I had no friends,” Wheale said. “She made me comfortable being the new kid.”

She was tall and thin, eventually growing to 6 feet. She wanted to be a model, but her parents couldn’t afford an expensive portfolio.

She attended a technical career program geared for special-education students and graduated from Raymore-Peculiar High School in 2003.

After high school she worked several different jobs, but stopped after some co-workers were unkind, Wheale said. She tended to learn things more slowly than others, he said.

Instead she took to babysitting for friends, her mother said. She doted on the children and eagerly snapped photos of them with balloons at parties, sledding in the snow or posing with a large tractor.

Friends and relatives detected a dark period about a year and a half ago. At that time, she told Wheale she wanted to kill herself.

“I tried to talk her out of it,” he said. “But she wouldn’t change her mind. She seemed at peace with it.”

She stopped talking to Wheale not long after that admission, he said.

“She cut off,” he said, “a lot of her friends.”

Her mother knew her daughter was depressed and anxious a few years ago. The daughter tried medication but it turned her into a zombie, her mother said.

In the last year, however, her mother believed things had gotten better.

“Every time I talked to her,” her mother said, “she was happy.”

Mother and daughter, who lived about two hours apart, last talked a few days before the apparent suicide. The daughter wanted her mother to download the free video-conferencing service Skype so they could better keep in touch.

“She was so excited about getting Skype on her Kindle,” the mother said. “Then she ended by saying, ‘I love you.’ ”

Mother and daughter also made plans for a trail ride this summer, a benefit for cancer awareness. She seemed excited about the event.

The daughter’s recent posts on Facebook seemed to anticipate the future. Three days before her apparent death, she posted a photo of morel mushrooms with the caption: “Who’s looking forward to picking these?”

The day before she presumably plunged off the bridge, she posted a photo from the television show “Duck Dynasty” that encouraged people to slow down.

“Everybody is in too big of a rush,” read the caption over a photo of Uncle Si sipping tea. She also posted a photo of an owl that day, with the caption: “Be kind to unkind people. They need it most.”

Her mother can’t believe her ex-husband would go along with a double-suicide plan, although she said he also struggled with depression. He was retired and helped friends with their farms, she said.

Now her mother sobs when she speaks of the daughter she believes she’s lost.

“She didn’t seem to be in that state of mind, not when she’s texting about doing something that she thought would be so fun,” the mother said of their planned trail ride. “There’s no note. No nothing. I’m lost.”

To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or send email to cvendel@kcstar.com.

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