Chuck Williams

Chuck Williams: Pasko's death hits close to home

Vince Pasko was one of the good guys.

I am trying to remember if I ever told him that. I don't think so, but sure wish I had.

A Columbus police officer for 31 of his 51 years, Pasko was decent, accommodating and professional. Always a cop -- and that's a good thing. You always knew he was a cop, but he was never one to play the cop card on you.

A lot of people who knew Pasko were stunned by his death last Tuesday morning. He died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Midland.

Frank Dunford, who spent 25 years as a Muscogee County sheriff's deputy and knew Pasko, changed his Facebook profile picture to one of his friend. Since leaving law enforcement more than three years ago, Dunford has become an active volunteer in the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He is currently president of the organization.

Dunford's main contact with Pasko was at the jail when Pasko would bring in prisoners. Pasko's death hit close to home.

"In Vince's case, I am shocked," Dunford said. "If I had to make a list of the people I thought might commit suicide, he would be near the bottom."

Over the last week, that has been a familiar sentiment from those who were close to Pasko. Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren refused to call it a suicide the day of Pasko's death. The chief wanted to see the ballistics report.

Who could blame him? On the surface, it just doesn't make sense.

All of us live and work around people we suspect to be on the edge. But there are others living their lives on the brink, and they offer no clue. Apparently Capt. Pasko was one of those. This does not surprise Dunford, because many in law enforcement and the military wear a mask to work to hide a perceived weakness.

"Those in law enforcement and soldiers have to wear that mask," Dunford said. "They have to have a mental toughness to do the job. They can't walk around and show it. They don't want to lose their jobs."

The jobs are grounded in a certain outer strength, Dunford said.

And Pasko always seemed to be a picture of that strength.

"I have talked to friends who recently saw Vince -- in the last week, two weeks," Dunford said. "They all said they didn't see a clue. Not a thing."

That leaves questions for those who knew Pasko.

"I wonder what would have happened if he had reached out?" Dunford said. "I really do."

That is always the most troubling and haunting question at a time like this.

In retirement, Dunford looks at the world differently. His work with NAMI has opened his eyes to the daily struggles people face. While not an expert, he has certainly picked up a layman's education in mental illness. And it has led him to a simple conclusion.

"The only shame is not seeking help," Dunford said. "I know a lot of people don't look at it that way."

No, they don't.

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content,