'The question of why': Veteran's history sheds light on his life, drowning incident
By STEPHANIE DICKRELL | St. Cloud Times, Minn. | Published: May 12, 2018
ST. CLOUD (Tribune News Service) — Dozens of contacts with law enforcement and a history of post-traumatic stress disorder may help explain how a veteran ended up dead in the Mississippi River this week.
On Wednesday, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office identified the man seen entering the river on Monday afternoon as Shannon David Shaw, 49, of Waite Park. A search of the river began immediately. His body was recovered Tuesday night.
The exact nature of his death is unknown, and an investigation is ongoing.
Details from law enforcement and his wife, Kristi Shaw, show Shannon had been struggling for health and stability for years.
Shannon had contact with Central Minnesota law enforcement officers almost two dozen times since 2015, said Jon Lentz, chief deputy for the sheriff's office. Shannon was having trouble going back at least a decade, according to court records.
One of those encounters with law enforcement happened the day he died. "That's part of the problem that law enforcement and the family will struggle with --question of why," Lentz said.
Kristi Shaw said Shannon had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder that stemmed his service with the military police in the U.S. Army in the 1990s.
She and Shannon were married for more than 17 years.
"I saw a person who was so amazing and so genuine and so good, who just fought demons in his life," she said. "It was a painful, painful struggle."
She said Shannon's contacts with law enforcement are part of that story.
"It shows a lost person who was seeking to ease pain and ask for help and not knowing how," she said.
One last contact
Shannon's last contact with law enforcement was on the morning he went into the Mississippi River. Stearns County deputies were called to a gas station on Minnesota Highway 15, south of Interstate 94 in St. Augusta.
It appeared Shannon had crawled into a pontoon boat to sleep while the boat's owner was buying fuel. When Shannon was discovered, the owner asked him to leave and Shannon refused.
Shannon told Stearns County deputies who responded to the gas station that he had been evicted from his apartment and had no place to go. He asked to be taken to the St. Cloud VA Health Care System.
As deputies were attempting to make arrangements, VA staff asked that Shannon be medically cleared before he was brought to the VA.
Lentz said typically when a facility such as the VA, the Central Minnesota Mental Health Center or the Stearns County Jail asks for a medical clearance, alcohol or narcotic use is suspected. It is unclear why staff requested Shannon be medically cleared on Monday.
Shannon went with the deputies to St. Cloud Hospital. He was admitted to the hospital and deputies had no further contact with him until they were called to help search for Shannon in and around the Mississippi River.
While they were searching, law enforcement found his shoes, jeans and a backpack. A change of address form for a Minnesota ID was in the pocket of the jeans. At the time, it was too wet to read. When it was dry enough, law enforcement found Shannon's name on the form.
The same deputy who brought Shannon to the hospital was also on the dive team called to search. He recognized Shannon's name and provided details of the morning's events.
The hospital confirmed to law enforcement that Shannon was released about 4 p.m.
Around 5 p.m., police took a report of a car break-in near the 800 block of Sixth Avenue North, about four blocks from the hospital.
Witnesses said it appeared the break-in happened between 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.The owner reported about $3 was taken from the vehicle.
Based on witness descriptions, Lentz said law enforcement believes it was Shannon who broke into the vehicle.
The call alerting police to a man entering the Mississippi River came at 4:37 p.m.
Lentz said it isn't common to see a situation like this.
"It's unusual to have this type of thing, (when) somebody, this time of year, jumps into the river," he said.
Shannon has had more than a dozen contacts with law enforcement in several counties dating back to 2007. A majority of his convictions were for misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor crimes.
His convictions were related to driving under the influence of alcohol, driving after his license had been revoked, speeding and charges related to domestic violence or disorderly conduct.
In 2009, he was convicted of a felony charge under the domestic abuse act. He also had a felony conviction for fleeing police.
Since 2015, Shannon had several encounters with each of the following agencies: St. Cloud police, Waite Park police, Sauk Centre police and the Stearns County Sheriff's Office.
The calls were similar to his previous convictions. Law enforcement was also called several times to check on Shannon's welfare.
More recently, St. Cloud police arrested Shannon in early April on an outstanding warrant from St. Louis County for driving after revocation. He was booked into the Stearns County Jail on April 4.
'I'm lost in grief'
Kristi said Shannon spent much of his life feeling disposable or abandoned. He was left alone a lot as a kid.
"He was very fragile," she said. "I'm wondering: Was that part of what he was thinking when he left the hospital?"
She feels let down by the entire system, from law enforcement and the courts to health institutions and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I just find that whole thing intolerable," she said. "He was not a throwaway human being. He was a man with dreams and hopes and a family. ... I'm so angry and so frustrated, but I don't know what to do next."
The last time Kristi saw Shannon was in mid-March, when she said he seemed to be doing relatively well. She works as a traveling nurse and is in Montevideo.
Shannon came to the St. Cloud area specifically to seek treatment at the St. Cloud VA, Kristi said.
"It just didn't seem like there was ever any follow-through," she said, with the VA. "He had this continuous hard time connecting with people that said they were going to do things for him through the VA, and then nothing would happen."
The couple used to live in downtown St. Paul and Shannon went to Regions Hospital for mental health treatment. After a few years, staff there recommended treatment targeted to veterans, as his problems were primarily related to PTSD. He was referred to the St. Cloud VA and and was part of in-patient programs a few times.
Shannon was recently living in Waite Park near Crossroads Center and working at the VA for the past four or five months.
"He was doing well then. He was healthy. He was working really, really hard to work his job at the VA, to follow the rules," Kristi said.
Shannon worked as a supply clerk, who delivered supplies and filled orders all over the VA campus.
"It was very, very hard for him. He was putting in like miles and miles and miles every say," she said. "It was a struggle, but he did it."
Kristi isn't sure where she goes from here.
"First of all, I can't bring him back. I can't talk to him. But I don't want this to just go away like a news story and nothing changes. I want this to create some change in how hospitals and how the VA treats people," Kristi said. "I trusted the VA and I trusted CentraCare to do what was right for him, and they both let me down terribly."
The more details of the day she discovers, the more confused she gets, she said.
"So 37 minutes after he's cleared by hospital ... He runs into the water," Kristi said. "The coroner's told me he's going to rule it a suicide. And there's nothing I can do about that ruling."
She also considers the what ifs.
"If even one person would have called me that day, I would have dropped everything to save Shannon," she said. "I look for him, wait for him to call or text, I'm lost in the grief that I no longer have hope in the VA or a hospital to help my love. ... I don't know. I just have to find a way to make peace with this. And so far it's not coming."
As a nurse, Kristi has worked in emergency rooms and has patients who were probably much like Shannon was the day he died. She knows the ins and outs of the health care system's processes and procedures.
"It makes it so much worse," she said. "But at the same time, when I'm working, this does not happen. I advocate for my patients so that there's a positive resolution, every single time."
She says her life with Shannon is a major reason she approaches nursing that way.
"I have to shift my passion into helping other people. ... Because I don't want this to happen to anybody else," she said. "I always just had hope that he would get better, until hope is gone. And now it is."
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