Written by Lacy Atkins, CNN
Nine months after former Marine sergeant, 32-year-old Ian Fishback, took his own life, his friends and family are still in disbelief. This tough-looking guy who found dead in an American hotel room, they say, had a problem.
But what exactly did he have?
Fishback’s family may never know, but his friend Tyler Petrick says he had a number of underlying issues that he was fighting over — battles he may have lost in the months and years leading up to his death.
During a podcast talk called “Valley of the Voices” in which Petrick teamed up with filmmaker Talib Zedek to discuss youth suicide, he spoke of how he met Fishback about a decade ago, when they both lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Petrick, a doctoral student at the University of Virginia, was friends with Fishback’s ex-wife and children, and saw him in the city often.
“He was like this incredible person with so much energy. He would do just anything for anyone,” Petrick said on the show. “He was this kind of serious soul, the kind of person who takes a lot of pride in his abilities. He was a really good swimmer and he was really good with the machine — getting off his feet.”
But behind the calm surface was a character Petrick calls “a two-faced, mysterious world-class survivor.”
“It’s not until someone dies that you get to see him,” Petrick continued. “When he died, I just felt like I’d found myself this whole other person. And then it’s like ‘Who the hell is this guy?’ and then you start pulling it together.”
“A lot of his behaviors were really bizarre and difficult to write about — he would go to war and he would find himself back at home dealing with depression and a lot of, sometimes, suicide-induced chemical changes and feelings, and that was a lot of the pattern of mental illness he had with him,” Petrick said.
Fishback served in the Army from 2006 to 2014 and then became an infantry Marine, where he fought in all kinds of battle conditions. The military was no place for him, Petrick said.
“I heard a lot of stories from Ian about how hard it was to be in the military. I was no more surprised by his struggle with depression in the military than anybody else,” Petrick said.
According to a CNN analysis, the rates of military suicide increased five-fold from 2004 to 2014, with veterans making up the majority of those who killed themselves.
“How can you think that you’re going to beat the war but you’re not going to beat the person that’s causing all the stress in your life when you’re being forced to kill people and protect yourself?” Petrick asked.
In October 2018, Fishback’s family and friends issued a public appeal for information after he was found dead in a luxury hotel in the Washington, DC, area. Investigators are still trying to determine how he died, but no foul play is suspected.
“There is a very real fear that this is more than foul play,” his grieving mother, Lisa Zug, told CNN at the time.
“Ian did not kill himself. He was killed by a killer and we are asking for help to bring him to justice,” she said in a release.
Daniel Fishback said his brother was a proud Marine who “always wanted to come home,” but when it didn’t happen, he faced what he called a “tragic betrayal.”
“(He would say) when you have to die, don’t take it in anger or suffering. Take it in pain,” Fishback told CNN.
Petrick said the mental illness Fishback battled was especially acute in combat situations, where he encountered suicide and suicide attempts.
“I think he felt like maybe he was fighting for so many people, but people who he didn’t necessarily need to be defending,” Petrick said.