Murder of Hillsborough County deputy renews mental health effort

Via Peters

It’s believed a coworker and partner shot Deputy Abigail Bieber while they were visiting a St. Augustine vacation home.

TAMPA, Fla. — The murder of Hillsborough County Deputy Abigail Bieber, a 30-year-old law enforcement officer being remembered as being a bright spot in a dark world, is renewing conversations on domestic violence and mental health.

It’s especially a conversation happening now among officers and first responders.

“This uniform, a lot of people think it means we’re Superman or Superwoman, but inside, we have to remind ourselves we’re humans, just like everyone else,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said during a news conference Wednesday before her funeral procession. 

Bieber was found shot to death Saturday in a St. Augustine vacation home, according to the sheriff’s office. Her co-worker is believed to have shot her before killing himself, according to investigators. Both are said to have been in a romantic relationship. 

Chronister said it’s important to destigmatize mental health and for first responders to know help is available if they’re struggling. However, the sheriff stressed there is no excuse for the murder of Bieber.

“This is a domestic violence situation. This is that horrific crime of anger and passion, and that’s what needs to stop,” Chronister said. 

Experts said it’s important to change the stigmas surrounding mental health among first responders, not just locally, but across the nation. 

“I can tell you from personal experience, the job is tough. You have to be a warrior to do that job,” said Manny Gonzalez, who worked with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office for 25 years.

PTSD from exposures within the job, negative public interactions, and frequent emergency responses with no outlet to process emotions can spur mental health challenges on first responders, Gonzalez said. He now works as a facilitator and first responders liaison for the nonprofit Hands Across the Bay.

Gonzalez said making sure staff are aware of how first responders are doing is essential, along with letting them know it’s OK to ask for help.

“Domestic violence is everyone’s business,” Julie Weintraub, founder and CEO of Hands Across the Bay. 

Weintraub said it’s important for people to intervene if they notice red flags or suspect domestic violence. Early intervention could be what leads to saving someone’s life.

Bieber’s motorcade traveled from St. Johns County to Interstate 275 in Hillsborough County before exiting at Bearss Avenue. Those escorting Deputy Bieber then traveled from N. Dale Mabry Highway to Ehrlich Road before passing the HCSO District III Office where she was assigned.

Deputies escorted Bieber home to Clearwater with assistance from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Motor Unit.

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis is urged to reach out for help. You can contact the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay at 211 or call 911. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached 24/7 at 800-799-7233. Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Tampa Bay Crisis Center also contains a help line for first responders. Anyone in need of help can dial 1-866-4FL-HERO. 

Hands Across the Bay recently launched a group dedicated to supporting first responders’ mental health. Details can be found through [email protected]

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