General is most senior Army officer to kill self

WASHINGTON  — The Army acknowledged Friday that Maj. Gen. John Rossi committed suicide on July 31, making him the highest-ranking soldier ever to have taken his own life.

Rossi, who was 55, was just two days from pinning on his third star and taking command of Army Space and Missile Command when he killed himself at his home at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. '

Investigators could find no event, infidelity, misconduct or drug or alcohol abuse, that triggered Rossi's suicide, said a U.S. government official with direct knowledge of the investigation. It appears that Rossi was overwhelmed by his responsibilities, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

Rossi himself talked in March about suicide at a conference on preventing troops from killing themselves.

He held up a card from his wallet with photos of 10 soldiers who had died under his command at Fort Sill, Okla. Four of them had committed suicide.

Rossi led off the event by reading the reports of recent suicide attempts to the soldiers at the event, according to a news story on the Army's web site. He told the conference that he received reports of four soldiers per week thinking about or attempting suicide.

“We are ultimately responsible for soldiers both on and off duty,” Rossi said.

In a separate statement on Friday, Rossi's family asked for privacy and called on soldiers with emotional problems to seek help.

"To all the other families out there, to the man or woman who may be facing challenging times, please seek assistance immediately," according to a statement released on the family's behalf by the Army.

The Army, the armed forces and its veterans have struggled with the scourge of suicide since the 9/11 terror attacks and the wars that followed in Afghanistan and Iraq. About 20 veterans a day kill themselves, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, putting them at 21% higher risk of suicide compared with civilian adults.

The suicide rate for active-duty troops was similar to that of civilians in 2014, according to the most recent data released by the Pentagon. The Army’s rate of 23.9 suicides per 100,000 soldiers was the highest among the services.

Almost 20 years ago, Adm. Jeremy Boorda, the Navy’s top sailor, killed himself with a gunshot to the chest. Then the chief of naval operations, Boorda had been the focus of an investigation into his improperly wearing combat medals. The four-star officer was the highest-ranking ever to have killed himself.

USA TODAY


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