A promise made almost four decades ago has been fulfilled. Katrie Smith Christopher lost her brother, John Dubreuil Smith, to suicide in 1982. The day is still fresh in Christopher’s mind so many years later. Her brother was tasked with babysitting his 8-year old sister, Katrie and brother, Joe, 13, at their home in Pumpkin Center.
“It was just like any other Friday night,” she said. “Me and Joe were playing tennis with paper balls and I was watching the “Muppets” and we heard a thump. There wasn’t a bang or anything like that.”
Neither child thought anything of the noise. They had lost their “tennis” ball so Joe went to the bedroom to get more paper and couldn’t open the bedroom door. He went around the house to the outside to gain access.
“I heard glass breaking and I heard Joe cuss, which is the first time I’ve ever heard him do that,” Christopher said. “He yelled at me to get into my mother’s closet which was where I’d always hide to get away from brothers when they were unruly. I sat there for what seemed like forever.”
Christopher remembers hearing clanking and a lot of peoples’ voices. What she didn’t know was that the clanking was from the gurney being used to take her brother out of the bedroom. The Muppet show was still playing, but the lives of this family would be changed forever. Smith didn’t die immediately from his injuries. His mother had to make the decision to take him off life support. From that day forward, Christopher was no longer “Katrie,” but the “little girl whose brother killed himself.”
Smith was just 15, a 10th grader at East Lincoln High School. There was speculation that Smith was upset after the recent death of his grandmother, or potentially due to the break-up with a girlfriend. Christopher found out years later that there was some bullying going on at school.
“Kids are ugly and mean and John was very soft-hearted,” she said. “Sometimes soft-hearted people are misunderstood or mistaken.”
Prior to the funeral, elders from the church the family attended, Beth Haven Baptist Church in Denver, visited the home.
“Spirituality and religion meant a lot to my mother,” Christopher said. “When the elders told my mother that my brother was going to Hell for taking his own life, she let out a wail that I will never forget. Instead of embracing her and our family, we were ostracized. My mother was told that my brother was not allowed to be buried with the rest of the congregation. Instead he was buried in the back corner of the cemetery with a few others back there that were shunned.”
Christopher’s mother, separated from her father at that time, was not well off financially, Christopher said. She had crippling rheumatoid arthritis made worst by botched surgeries but still got by quite well but her son’s suicide was the “beginning of her end.”
“After we buried my brother, the church wouldn’t take any responsibility for his grave,” she said. “My mother raked, seeded and weeded. She planted daffodils. She missed my brother – they had a special bond.”
Throughout the years after John’s suicide, when she accompanied her mother to take care of John’s grave, Christopher promised her that she’d move him. Her mother passed away six and a half years after John’s suicide. Even though Christopher moved away from Lincoln County, she continued to return to look after John’s grave.
Christopher was finally able to afford to have her brother moved to Victory Baptist Church in Denver and to be buried next to his mother. An informal graveside reclamation ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. on June 15 at Victory Baptist Church in Denver.