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Angela also suffered greatly. In the last year of her life, she was hospitalized four times for severe depression and mental illness. Each stay averaged about two weeks. In those times in the hospital, and the days and weeks in between, she was put on many different medications, underwent electroshock therapy, consulted with psychiatrists and other doctors, and participated in group therapy. I supervised her medications and went along to her appointments, where most of the time she would curl up in a chair with a hood pulled over her head and cry. Her last few months were volatile. She slept in her car. She could no longer care for her children; her oldest, who was 11 at the time, came to live with me and my husband while her two other children stayed with their father.
Depression was not new to our family. Angela’s father suffered from depression, and when she was only 5 years old, he took his life with a gun. We had some very difficult times as a family, but Angela, our baby, loved her father deeply. I know his death had a profound impact on her.
On May 5, 2011, two days shy of her 31st birthday, Angela went to a gun store near my home and bought a gun. Two months later, on July 5, the 26th anniversary of her father’s suicide by gun, she checked into a hotel and ended her life. Angela, like her father, uncle, and great-grandfather before her, had become yet another statistic in America’s gun-violence crisis. I was notified the next day by the coroner’s office that my daughter was gone forever.
Angela, the beautiful baby girl I held close to my body to help keep her temperature up right after she was born. The cherubic 2-year-old who watched the fireworks and declared “Holy cow” with every loud burst. The teenager who drove us to the edge of sanity and back again. The young woman who would drive across town to take her grandmother to church every Sunday and join my mother and me for Saturday breakfasts. The loving mother of three beautiful children. Gone forever.
One of the most difficult things for me to grasp was that my daughter’s medications were better regulated than the guns and bullets she used to end her life. I was shocked to learn how loopholes in our laws allow people who pose a danger to themselves or others to easily purchase firearms in this country. I learned that more than 30,000 Americans die each year from gunfire, and more than two-thirds of those deaths are suicides.
At her funeral, a relative had the audacity to tell me we have enough gun laws in this country. At that moment I knew I had to fight for change. At first, I was out there alone, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and emailing everyone from the Minneapolis chief of police to the President of the United States.
It is so important to me, and to all those who have had someone taken from them, that our loved ones are acknowledged, that others know how important their existence was on this earth. When I fight for my daughter, and for the other survivors I have met, I am giving them a legacy. It means they did not die in vain. I know it’s too late to save Angela. But if I can help spare the next mother the pain of losing her daughter, I will never give up.
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What gun victims would do about gun violence — (MinnPost)
Diane Sellgren had outlived two husbands by the time she was 30.
The first died in service while stationed in Guam. He was driving home in the middle of the night when his car tumbled off the road. Sellgren was pregnant at the time.
She was still in mourning when a longtime high school friend proposed eight months later. Single with three young children and not thinking clearly, she accepted. She should have taken her time.
Husband II was a turbulent man, prone to stormy moods and outbursts. He once threatened to shoot himself. Police put him in the hospital on a 72-hour watch and confiscated his gun. He bought another.
It was on the heels of an argument that Sellgren walked out of the shower to find her husband pointing that gun at her head. The thought of him murdering her, then killing himself and the children, flared through her mind.
Sellgren retreated, tore her kids out of bed, and hurried them to the car. A girlfriend found them on her doorstep at six in the morning, Sellgren swaddled in a bathrobe, her hair dripping wet.
Later that evening, Sellgren returned home with her friend’s husband as escort. She found her husband motionless in their blood-splattered bed.
That was in 1985. Their daughter, Angela Frankenberry, was but five years old.
“Angela was at times the sweetest, most loving young woman,” says Sellgren, now a stout, silver-haired woman of 60, whose measured voice hushes into a weary whisper when she recedes into memory.
Angela had her own rough trajectory early in life. Her first baby came at age 20. She would raise two more on piecemeal wages from Burger King and managing the kitchen of an eating disorder center in St. Louis Park.
When times were good, everything was an adventure. Angela and the kids would rescue turtles ambling across the street, etch chalk murals in Sellgren’s driveway, and sled down her backyard hill. When the kids were upset, Angela would eye them gravely and warn, “Whatever you do… don’t smile.”
Sellgren and her third husband helped as much as they could, but Angela had inherited demons beyond their power to allay.
Angela’s father, her uncle, and her great-grandfather had all killed themselves with guns. As a teenager, she would spend hours in therapy, curled up with a sweater pulled over her head, weeping. Over the years, her depression seemed implacable. She abused the anesthetic power of drugs and drink.
Once, Angela overdosed on her medication. From her hospital bed, she promised her mother that she hadn’t done it on purpose. She couldn’t leave the children.
The kids were Angela’s truest source of happiness, Sellgren believes. But she eventually lost sight of this joy too. Her therapists called for ambulances four times in a single year to have her placed on suicide watch.
In 2011, Sellgren was at work, managing traffic for a news network, when she received a call from the coroner’s office.
Angela was dead.
Twenty-six years to the day of her father’s suicide, she checked into the Snelling Motel in Minneapolis and shot herself with a gun she’d purchased secretly months before.
Angela may have chosen the hotel for a purpose. After her father’s death, her mother had to scrub blood and brain residue from the bedroom walls. This time a stranger would handle the cleanup.
The Snelling was also located just across the street from the Veterans Hospital. Angela was an organ donor.
“When my daughter committed suicide, I called Chief [Timothy] Dolan and asked him to have the gun destroyed,” Sellgren recalls. “I didn’t want to know it was out there. It was something that ended my daughter’s life. But I don’t blame the gun.”
Enough Gun Laws
Sellgren was surprised to later learn that Angela had successfully passed a background check. She bought the gun legally, along with lessons on how to use it, from Frontiersman in St. Louis Park, which is down the street from Sellgren’s house.
Angela’s four hospital stays the year before were not flagged. A doctor asked that she be institutionalized, and Angela voluntarily went. Had a judge ordered it instead, her permit would have been rejected.
“The pills that she took were more regulated than the bullets and the gun she purchased,” Sellgren says. “We had to wait a certain amount of days between refills. We had to get a doctor’s signature every month…. We had to jump through hoops to keep her healthy, and yet she could walk into any store and buy a gun.”
Delicate distinctions in how mental illness presents itself in a background check have played a part in high-profile mass shootings — including the Virginia Tech Massacre, the single deadliest committed by a lone gunman.
In 2007, student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 before turning the gun on himself. Cho had been diagnosed with severe anxiety and was court-ordered to attend therapy after stalking two women. Still, he was able to legally purchase guns because he had been in out-patient, instead of in-patient, care. [See Seung-Hui Cho story]
Angela’s funeral was a blur. A single detail stands out, one that distilled the gun control debate, even among the grieving. Unable to reconcile her daughter’s effortless access to the gun, Sellgren ruminated, “This is wrong. She never should have been able to get a gun. There should be better gun laws.”
A cousin’s wife, whom she’d known since she was 15, sighed and replied, “There are enough gun laws.”
Yet Sellgren began to help state legislators write more. In 2013, she pushed to give mental health patients the option of voluntarily placing a hold on their ability to buy guns — meant to prevent impulsive suicides in times of crisis. Even this was too much for the legislature. The bill never made it out of committee.
In 2014, Sellgren helped pass a law that prohibits those with domestic violence restraining orders from having firearms.