Kerry Adam Lewiecki’s numerous loved ones remember him as open, sincere and always smiling. A dual-degree-seeking University law student, Lewiecki was famous for dedication and an infectious laughter that lit up the halls of the Knight Law Center.
“He was one of the most motivated people I ever knew,” said Jordon Huppert, a close friend who bonded with Lewiecki over their mutual love for comic book superheroes. “(He) was nice to everybody … and genuinely so.”
After graduating, 27-year-old Lewiecki and Sara Miller, his fiancee, sent out hundreds of wedding invitations. Once married, they planned to move to Boston together to start their respective careers and a family. A leader among his peers, Lewiecki lived a life of accomplishment and had a promising future.
“From the moment we met, he just radiated energy,” Miller said. “I am better and stronger for having known him, for having him love me and for loving him back. “
On June 24, 2010, friends and family were shocked to learn that Lewiecki put a gun to his head and ended his life — one month after graduating, two months before his wedding and days before leaving Oregon to visit his family.
With so much love, accomplishment and ambition in his life, Lewiecki had never exhibited signs of someone contemplating suicide. He wasn’t prone to mood swings. He didn’t abuse substances. He was neither withdrawn nor isolated.
But one day in late June, Lewiecki decided to purchase a firearm in a state with no waiting period. Hours later, he was dead in his Eugene apartment, lying close to a note that ended with, “I am sorry for hurting others by my actions.”
“My jaw dropped; I just couldn’t believe it,” said Annette Smith, who had bonded with Lewiecki in a disability law class in spring 2009. “And then, of course, everyone just starts asking why. I think people still wonder why, because that’s usually something you don’t get an answer for.”
Those in Lewiecki’s life are not alone in their suffering. Every year in the United States, more than 34,000 people commit suicide — a large portion of whom are young adults. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than half of all suicidal deaths are by firearm.
For those Lewiecki left behind, out of this tragedy comes a responsibility to raise awareness. After Lewiecki’s death, peers and law school administrators lobbied legislators in Salem, demanding a waiting period for firearm purchases in a state with relatively relaxed gun laws.
In July, Miller returned to Oregon to attend Lewiecki’s memorial service and decided to also reach out to state legislators.
“They weren’t interested in talking to me. They weren’t interested in the topic,” Miller said. “Everyone grieves in their own way. We’re still grieving, but having an action and something to focus on was important.”
In 2009, Oregon’s Judiciary Committee introduced a bill into Senate that required a 14-day waiting period for the purchase of firearms. But the bill died in committee and was never heard on the Senate floor.
A medical professional, Miller decided to team up with Lewiecki’s father, also in the medical field. Together, they co-authored an article for the official journal of the American Medical Association addressing the myths surrounding suicide and arguing for greater gun regulation.
For Lewiecki’s father, the effort is about reducing “crimes of passion.” While some perceive suicide to be a premeditated act, many suicides are actually conducted on impulse.
“People get the idea that they can’t go on living and they act on that within minutes or even hours of having that thought,” said Lewiecki’s father, E. Michael Lewiecki. “If (Kerry) had not been able to purchase a handgun so easily, I think there’s a good chance it might not have happened.”
Today, Miller said is still in love with Kerry Lewiecki, and her memories remain positive. But her grief speaks volumes, and she struggles with the anger and confusion that swept into her life in June last year.
“I don’t get to have the life I was supposed to have. I was supposed to be married. I was supposed to have a family … I don’t know if I’ll have (that) anymore,” Miller said. “It’s not the right option. It should never be an option. But I know he couldn’t see that.”