Decorated soldier, suicide victim, is remembered at Calif. service
STOCKTON, Calif. — The short, troubled life of Christopher J. Silva-Medrano is over.
It ended with a self-inflicted gunshot wound Aug. 4. Family and friends mourned his death Thursday during an emotional funeral at Bethany Temple Church in east Stockton.
Most believe Spc. Silva-Medrano, a decorated soldier, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving two overseas tours of duty with the U.S. Army, his time in Iraq ending in 2009.
"He had problems when he was deployed — with drinking, with being lonely, with his anger," said his 25-year-old widow, Yesenia Medrano, of Stockton.
Her husband was 28 when he died from a gunshot wound to the head while living in Killeen, Texas, not far from the Army's Ford Hood military installation where he was honorably discharged last summer.
The Veterans Administration Health Care System in Killeen would not comment about Silva-Medrano's patient status.
Suicides among members of the U.S. military are averaging about one a day since the start of the year — the fastest pace in a decade of war.
In a report released Thursday, the Army announced 26 potential suicides in July alone — twice as many as the month before.
The surge is about 50 percent higher than last year and far outdistances 2012 combat-related deaths in Afghanistan.
Judge Bill Cooke, the Bell County, Texas, coroner, ruled Silva-Medrano's death a suicide.
"This is such a tragedy, so sad ... that's why I choose to send this case to Dallas for an autopsy," said Cooke.
Born Feb. 3, 1984, in Panorama City north of Los Angeles, Silva-Medrano was raised in Stockton by his paternal grandparents, Ray and Bertha Silva. He attended Edison High School, enlisted in 2007, was sent to South Korea and then to Iraq. He was a mortar-transport operator with the 96th Transportation Company.
"He drove a big truck, a really big truck," said Pastor Robert Pimentel, who officiated the funeral.
He and Yesenia Medrano were married in 2006. They met at Bethany, a multicultural congregation, when both were children. The couple separated last year.
"But I still love him," she said. "He didn't deserve to die this young. He was really good at heart, even though he had a lot of difficulties. I don't know what was going through his mind."
Assisting with Thursday's services were 14 members of the Patriot Guard Riders and the American Legion's Karl Ross Post 16.
"The fact is he's a veteran and he served his country," said Matt Golden, a retired Stockton police officer and assistant state captain for the Patriot Guards. "That's why we're here. To honor him."
During the funeral, the dismounted motorcylists stood holding flags outside arched windows on the church's south wall.
Pimentel, 65, said it broke his heart when he heard that Silva-Medrano had taken his life. The pastor watched him grow up — within the church's Royal Rangers program for youths and as an across-the-street neighbor.
"Chris had a tough life," Pimentel said. "He was rambunctious, independent, energetic. At times, it seemed as if he had no brakes. Chris had issues in his life. He was a wounded young man."
Pimental, an Army veteran from the 1960s, also talked about the stresses those serving in the military face.
"Too many come back damaged in spirit and emotion," he said. "Some will do weird things to relieve the stress."
A recent Army study of suicides confirms his eulogy.
"A desire to end intense emotional distress" was listed as the leading cause for attempting suicide by 72 soldiers engaged in a 2010 study at Fort Carson, Colo.
The top reason for stress: multiple overseas tours.
Thursday's funeral in Stockton was followed by a 90-minute procession to the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon where Silva-Medrano was buried.
Silva-Medrano leaves behind a 4-year-old daughter, Ananiah, who last saw him in July 2011.
"She knows she has a daddy," said Yesenia Medrano. "She remembers him. He had a red truck, and everytime Ananiah sees a red truck, she says, 'There's daddy'."
On one of two video clips shown during the funeral, the last words mourners heard, just after Ananiah recited the Pledge of Allegiance:
"I love you, daddy."
Staff writer Zachary K. Johnson contributed to this report.