Girlfriend: Crowley-Smilek wanted to kill himself; family disagrees
FARMINGTON - The man who was shot dead by a police officer Saturday morning in front of the Farmington Municipal Building went there to kill himself, his girlfriend said Tuesday.
At 11 a.m. Justin Crowley-Smilek, 28, of Farmington, rang the bell for assistance at the front door of the town office building and Officer Ryan Rosie came outside to help. According to police, a short, undisclosed communication ensured between Crowley-Smilek and Rosie and ended when the former U.S. Army Ranger pulled out a kitchen knife. Crowley-Smilek "started chasing the officer with the knife," Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck said Tuesday. "It all happened so quickly - in a matter of seconds - and unexpectedly. He (Rosie) acted appropriately to deadly force."
The state's Medical Examiner's Office said an autopsy found Crowley-Smilek died from "multiple gun shot wounds."
Destiny Cook, Crowley-Smilek's girlfriend for nearly a year, said the signs were there that he was contemplating suicide but she didn't recognize it in time. His family, including his father, Michael Smilek, disagree.
"I know he went there to kill himself," Cook said. "Two weeks ago he started to come undone." After serving in Afghanistan, Crowley-Smilek was honorably discharged three years ago. He came home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, bi-polar disorder, which Cook said he didn't show signs of before going into the Army, and a serious back injury after he fell 30 feet from a helicopter when the soldier rappelling in front of him got tangled in the lines.
Since he got back home, he was on six or seven medications the VA hospital prescribed. "He worried about everything; he was terrified of everything and all he wanted to do was protect his family," Cook said.
She met him in mid-December 2010 and describes him as "gentle and kind and was really, really fun to be with." Still, there was a dark side to him. He drank alcohol to excess and "was doing drugs. He'd get completely inebriated to numb himself," Cook said.
Crowley-Smilek's interactions with local law enforcement include a February 2010 incident in which he was arrested at the University of Maine at Farmington's Dearborn Gymnasium during a basketball game and charged with carrying a concealed weapon.
She was not with him the night a man was brutally beaten, an incident which resulted in Crowley-Smilek being arrested on a charge of aggravated assault. Police said a man sleeping in his car in the parking lot of Front Street Tavern was beaten with a flashlight. Crowley-Smilek was in court in connection with that case on Friday, at which point the judge ordered a physiological evaluation be completed before moving forward with the case.
Shortly after being charged with aggravated assault, Crowley-Smilek was again arrested, this time for an alleged bail violation after police said they found marijuana plants and a machete at his house.
After those incidences, Cook said, "He tried to turn things around." He was getting acupuncture and massage treatments, attending VA classes and counseling sessions. Shortly after his bail violation arrest for marijuana possession, he got a medical marijuana license and was legally able to smoke, which Cook said helped mellow him out. He started to ease off the multiple medications that sometimes caused him to go into uncontrollable rages, Cook said.
However, roughly three months ago, according to Cook, Crowley-Smilek was off all of his medications. He became drawn to the manic episodes of his bi-polar disorder, something the medications had kept in check, she said.
"He just wanted to change his life," Cook said. But slowly, over the next few months, his emotional stability appeared to Cook to be harder and harder to maintain.
"He worried constantly about his family's debt. He was afraid it would destroy them," she said. Paranoid thoughts, such as government conspiracies, seemed to increasingly consume him. Lying in bed "his heart would pound at night," she said.
He had worked toward getting his finances together and other preparations completed in order to buy a house in Mt. Vernon.
"He wanted us (Cook and her daughter Payten, 11) to live with him there," Cook said. He talked of getting goats and chickens, of getting out of Farmington. The house sale's closing was scheduled for Veterans Day, Nov.11. But suddenly, and without explanation, he canceled it on the day before he was due to close the sale.
A little more than a week before the Saturday he went to the town office, Cook noticed another major shift in him. He seemed to relax, not be stressed and was unusually open about his feelings for her.
Through tears, Cook said, "he told me he loved me, that I had meant so much to him, how I was his angel, how thankful he was. He seemed so free from stress."
"I held him and I said 'everything's going to be OK.' Then he said, 'Whoever said suicide was bad?'" Cook heard that and was surprised he would say that. Asking him, he dismissed it. "No, nothing, never mind," he said.
On Thursday night, Nov. 17, she remembers asking in an offhand way, "What should we do this weekend?" Crowley-Smilek didn't say anything. The night before his death, they watched the movie, 50 First Dates together.
"He was so quiet. He just let me talk, but I loved listening to his stories," she said crying. They went to bed at 11; at 6 a.m. Saturday, she woke up as Crowley-Smilek was covering her with another blanket. "It had gotten cold." They got up at 7.
"He was different that morning. Like the life had come out of him, but I never thought he'd do anything like this," she said.
Cook left to run errands. She texted him a few times. His last text to her arrived somewhere around 9 a.m. He texted, "I love you." She tried to respond to him but received no answer. She went to his house, the door was locked and she tried calling him. She could hear his phone ring and heard his German Shepherd, "Ranger" in the house.
"I thought something must have happened; he never went anywhere without Ranger," Cook said.
Worried, but continuing her errands, Cook was in Walmart when the police called her. "We need to come get you," she heard. Standing outside the store, two Farmington police officers arrived and told her she needed to come with them. She asked to take her dog Sassy that was in the car, home first. On her way home with the officers following, Cook tried to call Crowley-Smilek's father, Michael Smilek. His wife Lorna answered and said "Justin's dead, a cop shot him," Cook remembers. "I just tried to keep it together." After dropping her dog off, she climbed into the cruiser and was taken to the municipal building where Crowley-Smilek had died earlier at the end of the front walk and where the police department is located.
"They (the police officers) were very nice and they wanted to know what happened. They asked, 'Did he (Crowley-Smilek) have anything against the police?' He had no problems with the Farmington Police Department," Cook said.
Cook says she knows he went there to kill himself not only because of his emotional state, but because he left his watch, "which he never took off," his wallet, cell phone and his dog Ranger at home.
"He left knowing what he was going to do," she said and added, "He had no hope anymore."
"My heart goes out to the officer (who shot Crowley-Smilek)," Cook said. "I hope nothing like this ever happens again." Cook also hopes some good can come out of the tragedy. She wonders if there can be a protocol in place so that when a psychological evaluation is ordered in court, as was the case with Crowley-Smilek, perhaps local law enforcement agencies can be notified.
Michael Smilek of Farmington, does not believe his son went to the municipal offices to kill himself. Nor, he said, does the rest of the family, including his wife Lorna, Justin's mother Ruth Crowley, Justin's sister Mary Elsie Crowley-Lane and members of the extended family. He had a close relationship with his son, he said. The night before Crowley-Smilek's death, he called his son and was told he and Destiny were watching a movie together. "He said he'd call tomorrow at 10 and maybe we could get together for lunch. He had a list of things to do," Michael Smilek remembers and then he said, "suicide is a sin."
He points out his son was an Army Ranger and was taught to never ask for help. If he wanted to end his life he would have put on his combat gear and "have had a shoot out. "He'd go down like that," he said.
"I honestly believe in my heart he was very troubled, seeking help." He went to the town office "to ask for help. What better way to show you're crazy than to bring a knife?" Michael Smilek said. Instead, he said the officer shot and killed his son because, "he (the officer) didn't receive proper training."
Chief Peck said Tuesday that Officer Rosie "is doing as well as can be expected." As is standard procedure, Rosie was placed on administrative leave, pending the investigation by the state's Attorney General's Office. Peck has met with him a couple of times and has spoken on the phone with him every day since the shooting.
"He feels bad for the loss of life," Peck said of Rosie.
Peck said the entire Farmington Police Department was affected one way or another and will together be attending a critical incident stress debriefing to help deal with the traumatic event on Saturday. It's a method used in the law enforcement for officers to be able talk about the incident with a trained professional. "All of this has meant a lot of added stress for everyone," he said.
"I want to not ever let this happen to another family," Cook said. "If you know a vet's family, see what you can do to help them. If you see something's not right, don't stand back and wait, get involved; keep them alive."
A service of remembrance for Justin Crowley-Smilek with full military honors will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Wiles Remembrance Center, 137 Farmington Falls Road in Farmington.