By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Peter Linnerooth was skilled at staving off suicide among his fellow soldiers. But ultimately he couldn’t do the same for himself.
The former Minnesota State University psychology instructor and Army psychologist took a gun and ended his life Jan. 2 in his Mankato apartment. He was 42.
In a tragically ironic way, his death served to corroborate his personal mission: Getting the word out that too many in the military were suffering mightily from combat stress, not enough was being done to help them, and the caseloads for military mental-health specialists were overwhelming.
“The Army has been criminally negligent,” he told Time magazine in 2010.
Linnerooth himself struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, wrought by duty in Iraq several years ago that profoundly unsettled him.
MSU colleague Jeff Buchanan said the change in Linnerooth was readily apparent upon his return from Iraq — one facet of his personality in particular.
“Pete was quite sure of himself before, but he was much more critical of himself afterward.”
Dan Houlihan, Linnerooth’s graduate studies adviser at MSU, said paranoia gripped Linnerooth during his PTSD bouts, and he’d sit in his office compulsively running papers through a shredder.
“He got to where he didn’t trust anybody,” Houlihan said. “Man, what a waste. It’s a huge shame.”
Linnerooth was born in Minneapolis and graduated from a Rochester high school in 1988.
He was an assistant professor at MSU in 2008 and 2009 before going to California, then Nevada, to work with returning soldiers, especially those with PTSD, at Veterans Administration medical centers.
Army medic Jedidiah Myers dubbed Linneroth a “wizard” in reference to the lives he saved with his counseling.
Houlihan surmises that Linnerooth’s tipping point came when he lost his job at the Nevada VA facility over a state psychologist’s licensure issue.
“I think the thing that really threw him was when they essentially fired him.”
Linnerooth, also having marital problems with his second wife at the time, last summer moved back to Mankato, where his first wife and two children live.
Houlihan and Buchanan said they had no contact with him following his return.
Linnerooth, after speaking at a Mankato Memorial Day ceremony in 2009, told The Free Press of his disillusionment with the military for not providing enough psychologists to meet the needs of combat troops.
He said at the base he served in Iraq there were four therapists serving an encampment of 40,000 soldiers — a number far fewer than would be found in a city with that population.
In the 2010 Time article he expanded upon that imbalance: “That’s way too little, and it’s led to much burnout.”
Houlihan said Army psychologists in Iraq having to double as hospital triage staff after bloody mass-casualty events took a huge toll on Linnerooth.
“They really overloaded these guys. The expectation of them was, ‘If you’re not doing something, help out.’ When bombs would go off and civilians would be injured, he’d get called to stitch up kids, and he wasn’t trained to take care of dying children.”
As his wife Melanie Walsh told Time, Linnerooth was especially tormented by the horrifically injured children.
“The adults died quickly, but the kids didn’t give up,” Melanie recalled her husband telling her. “So they screamed in agony for hours until they finally died. Their skin was falling off, and the bone was showing through and there was nothing these guys could do for them except try to manage their pain while they died.”
According to Time, in the early morning of Jan. 2, Linnerooth was alone in his apartment, mixing Jack Daniels with Diet Coke and having a telephone argument with his wife when he chose to end his life.
He was buried in Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis on Monday.