Before a suicide, A mother’s lament: ‘Why can’t I fix this?’ — (Billings Gazette)

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Billings Gazette

By CINDY UKEN cuken@billingsgazette.com

SAVAGE — Failure.

That is the prism through which Rick Dean Haber Jr., a 33-year-old divorced father, saw himself. It didn’t matter what he did. His self-portrait was a recurring and relentless image of failure.

He never knew his father, who died when Haber was an infant.

As a kindergartner, he was shy.

Academics were not his forte.

In this small northeastern Montana town near the North Dakota border, Haber played linebacker for the Savage Warriors. He had a few high school buddies who remember his “quiet” demeanor. After high school most of his chums got married. Not Haber; he was alone.

He had somehow failed, again.

“That fun Rick wasn’t there anymore,” said his mother, Vena Mecklenburg, of Savage. “He was by himself.”

Those years seemed to mark the beginning of a stubborn depression, although his family would not realize it until later.

A defining moment would come when Haber turned 19. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Haber was expected to spend two years performing missionary service for his church. But just three weeks into his missionary training in Utah, the painfully introverted teen placed a distress call home.

“Mom, I can’t do this,” his mother recalled.

Haber abandoned the mission and returned home to Savage.

“I don’t believe he ever forgave himself for coming home,” Mecklenburg said. “He felt like a failure.”

In his mind, he had let down his family, his church and his God. That, said Mecklenburg, is when things went “really bad.”

One after the other, Haber suffered mounting setbacks. He married and divorced. Financial woes plagued him. He was involved with at least two failed business ventures. He lost his home.

He became easily frustrated, quick-tempered and verbally abusive. He questioned his self-worth. At one point, he even questioned whether he was the devil incarnate.

Increasingly alarmed, his mother said she sought medical attention for her troubled son. He enrolled in anger-management classes in Williston, N.D., about 60 miles away, to help retain some parental rights to his only son.

Over the course of three years, he reluctantly saw four health care professionals, including a family nurse practitioner and a psychiatric nurse practitioner. He was diagnosed with depression by one, and “deep, deep depression” by another. By yet another he was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, his mother said. Along the way, he was prescribed Prozac, a common antidepressant. He said it made his face twitch and it frightened him.

“It kind of scared me because of how depressed he was,” Mecklenburg said. “He would just cry. I told him he could either go with me willingly to get help or I would do it legally, because at that point he said some things that kind of scared me.”

Haber was becoming increasingly delusional. After his divorce, as he and his ex-wife tried to work out child custody arrangements, he thought the government was conspiring to prevent him from seeing his son and would snatch the boy. He also suspected the government was listening in on his cellphone calls.

He would pull all-nighters watching YouTube videos, searching for answers.

Once while visiting his mother, he sat down on the floor, looked her in the eye and asked, “Mom, am I Satan?”

His paranoia deepened as he watched a conspiracy movie about the Denver International Airport.

In February, Haber flew from Sidney through Denver on his way to California. Back home, his mother wondered how she would get him home from the trip safely as she kept hearing from a man she no longer recognized as her son. At one point, he asked her if she would have a mob at the Sidney airport waiting to kill him on his return.

“That’s when I got really scared,” she said. “I was shocked that he would think I would have a mob there to beat him to death.”

As he became increasingly unhinged, she threatened legal means to force his treatment. That’s when he agreed to see a family practitioner who prescribed a drug to “quiet his thoughts,” Mecklenburg said. He was referred to a mental health specialist in the area but was told it would be at least a three-week wait.

“It’s like these demons took over, quickly, very fast,” Mecklenburg recalled. ”There was a lot of me trying to fix it. I’m the mother. I’m supposed to fix everything. I’m trying to fix it and I can’t. I’ve always fixed everything, so why can’t I fix this?”

As the appointment slowly crept closer, Mecklenburg asked a member of her church to administer a priesthood blessing to comfort, guide and heal her broken son.

It was her last hope.

But Haber would not live long enough to keep the appointment.

About 3 p.m. on March 11, as 3-year-old Atlie Dean Haber sat on the front seat of his daddy’s four-wheel-drive GMC pickup, Haber shot the boy in the head with a high-powered rifle. He then turned the gun on himself, shooting himself in the head.