At 6:45 a.m. on May 4, a pair of military priests arrived at Carey Harris’ home.
“I opened the door, and I looked right at those priests, and I said, ‘My child committed suicide,’” Carey said. “She’s dead.”
The priests confirmed what she’d dreaded. Her daughter had become introverted. Over a few months, their close relationship had turned remote. Carey knew something was wrong, but she didn’t exactly know what.
She would learn in meetings that her daughter had filed a sexual assault charge against a fellow service member, that it happened ten days after her daughter had revealed her sexual orientation on Facebook, that she’d been under counselling and expressed thoughts of suicide and do-not-arm order. And that an error by the military led to her daughter coming into reach of her accused assailant, regardless of a protective order designed to keep them apart.
A few days after the encounter, she bought a pistol at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska and committed suicide with her-do-not-arm order expired.
Kaylie Harris was 21 years old.
Her death represents a convergence of currents that have torn the military for decades: suicide, integrating LGBTQ troops and sexual assault. Her family thinks she would have survived if the army had taken her complaint of sexual assault more solemnly and heeded red flags that signalled her growing mental health crisis. They sight the alleged assault that took her life as a hate crime and wants the authorities to change military law to protect LGBTQ troops.
“The military talks a lot about supporting LGBT troops and survivors and suicide prevention, but their action barely equals the words they use,” said the president of Protect Our Defenders, Don Christensen. “There still is a tradition of disbelief when survivors come forward and a culture that even if the survivors’ accusations are true, ‘they should just walk it off.’ Several of these cases end in disaster like this one, partially because the military failed to keep suspects away from their victims.”