Julia Elizabeth Behner Lyster was born on June 11, 1982 and died on May 9th, 2012.
“Julie was 29 when she died last May 9th of a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” said her mother, Chris Behner, from Tampa Bay, Florida. “She was my baby, the youngest child. And on Mother’s Day last year, we had the private family viewing. That was the very last time I saw my daughter. So naturally this Mother’s Day was absolutely fraught with pain and suffering for me.
“A long time ago,” she went on, “I’m a nurse, and a long time ago, I worked in a hospital emergency room where a three-year-old had been brought in with a — with his face blown off, and of course he died. I’m still periodically having nightmares about the sound of the mother crying in the waiting room. And now, I’m the mother.”
Chris explained that Julie had bipolar disorder and never should have been able to purchase a gun.
“In the years after she was diagnosed, she somehow – and I found this going through her papers afterwards – she somehow managed to [acquire] three concealed carry permits from Montana, Alabama, and Florida. And she owned guns that she bought at gun stores. How did this happen? I would have really appreciated it if no one sold my daughter a gun, or gave her a concealed carry permit.”
Julie’s behavior had become chaotic during adolescence, so much so that when she turned 18, Chris Behner asked her to move out. She moved to Montana to live with her father and seemed to settle down a little (no one knew yet that she was ill). There she met a man when she was in her early twenties named Phil, who was shot and killed outside of a bowling alley one night in front of Julie less than a year after they had been married.
“I get a phone call in the middle of the night, ‘Mom, Phil’s been shot.’” Phil was at his best friend’s bachelor party. Deciding that they had had too much to drink to drive home, they called the best friend’s fiancé, but in the parking lot a drunk “18 year old with a 20-gauge shotgun” threatened to kill them, and when “Phil stepped in front of his best friend and fiancé, and said, ‘You don’t have to do this,’ the drunken 20-year-old shot him. And Julie was there for that. And I really think that that is what tipped it. It was horrible.”
After the trial, Julie moved to Birmingham, Alabama, for a time, and it was there that Chris said she began to notice “really bizarre behavior.” She worried, but attributed Julie’s behavior to her son-in-law’s murder. In fact, Julie had by then been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, though she lied to her mother about this, and told her she was depressed and had been given anti-depressants.
Julie’s mental illness, “never got put into the system,” according to Chris, and it was only after Julie “moved to the Tampa Bay area with the rest of the family,” after several years away in Montana and Alabama that Chris understood that her daughter was mentally ill. Even still, they lived in separate houses and Chris could not have known that her daughter had bought guns.
The last time Chris saw her daughter she told her, “I love you. What can I do? I’m going to take care of you, and we’re going to get through this.” Not long after that, Julie shot herself through the heart with a 9mm handgun from Beretta USA.
“Losing Julie has been the worst thing that I could ever imagine personally happening to me,” said Chris.
“I think about her all day every single day. I think about how soft her cheek felt the last time I hugged her. I think about the times that we had that were good, and the times that we had that weren’t good. And I’ll tell you what: I would give everything I own or ever will own for one more minute with my daughter, and I don’t see why people can’t give up five minutes for a gun background check. If it were your kid, you’d want that protection.”
She went on to say that she feels there are a number of things we can do “to make gun ownership safe—safer, at least,” including passing laws that mimic how cars and driving are regulated to encourage road safety. She believes gun owners need to pass a test to own a gun, in other words, to have a license, and to buy insurance for any guns owned, for example.
“I keep thinking that the more letters we send, the more people will realize how important it is to make some changes. Among other people, I had written to my two senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, and to my president, and without trying to look like I was feeling sorry for myself, I just told them briefly a little bit about me, and a little bit about what I thought was reasonable. From Bill Nelson, I got a very nice email back. From President Obama, I got a very specific, very kind condolence note, and a brief statement of where he stood on the issues. From Marco Rubio, I got an email telling me why he has to cut spending on Medicare and Social Security. That pretty much says it all.”
Suicides account for 20,000 gun deaths in the United States every year.
The Baltimore Sun reported this week that “Despite Beretta’s threats that the company would leave Maryland if new gun laws were passed and signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, Beretta USA has no current plans to abandon its headquarters in Prince George’s County.”