Alabama AG Opens Up About Wife's Mental Illness, Suicide
By Paul Gattis
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, in his first public remarks Wednesday since his wife's sudden death four days ago, gave a grueling account of her struggles with mental illness.
Marshall, with tears in his eyes but his voice strong and resilient, spoke to the media as well as about 100 friends and family members at Oak Hill Missionary Baptist Church outside Albertville in rural Marshall County.
He took no questions after speaking for about 21 minutes, exiting a side door of the church accompanied by his daughter Faith and other family members.
Marshall said he felt compelled to publicly address the circumstances surrounding his wife's death following a report Tuesday night that Bridgette Marshall had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. AL.com reported Tuesday night that police in Murfreesboro, Tenn., had listed her death as suicide on a report.
Marshall said his wife had sought quiet refuge in the Nashville suburb as a consequence of her mental illness.
"It is not our desire to be here today," Marshall said. "We were forced to be here today. I know I'm speaking to you in some ways as the attorney general of Alabama. But I'm a dad, I'm a husband. And I watched my daughter read a reckless article last night that disclosed the circumstances of how Bridgette died and where.
"And I watched my daughter in tears because Bridgette is not a public figure. I am. She didn't want the limelight. She didn't want to be in front. She always was behind. And for Faith to suffer through that last night, as a father, angered me. And it angered our family. So when we should have been sharing stories of Bridgette's life last night as a family, we were talking about how to respond. Because that story was only filled with half-truths. It's not the full story of how it is we stand here so sadly today and what it gave rise to was rumor, for gossip and for people to say things that were reckless. And we weren't going to stand for that. As a dad, I'm not going to let my daughter go through that."
Marshall then outlined his wife's life of mental illness, which he traced as far as back as a childhood plagued with migraines. It culminated with what Marshall said was an addiction to opioids -- including hydrocodone and fentanyl -- and the need Bridgette felt to leave Alabama.
While she was living in Murfreesboro -- at an apartment complex not known by her family until May, Marshall said -- Marshall said he spoke with his wife daily by phone.
The last time he said he saw her was when she returned home on June 5 for the primary election and her birthday the next day.
"She was as happy as I had seen her in a long time," Marshall said.
He described the day as being filled with "joy" and there was discussion of her returning to Albertville -- where the family lived when Marshall was the longtime district attorney of Marshall County. After that day, Marshall said "something changed, we don't know what" with his wife.
She began to complain about problems with her stomach and then, the day before she died, she had blisters that showed up on her feet.
"It was odd, it was strange," Marshall said. "We didn't know what it was; she didn't know what it was. And so Saturday night after she sent a picture to a lot of people saying 'What is this? And why is this going on?' Her parents talked to her and I talked to her and we convinced her to go to the hospital the next day. And she said she would go."
Marshall said Bridgette's parents planned to drive to Murfreesboro on Sunday morning to accompany her to the hospital.
"They called (Bridgette) Sunday morning and she said, 'I won't be alive when you get here,'" Marshall said. "Bridgette's mom called me and told me and I said, 'Let me talk to her.' I got on the phone with her and I was talking to a person who didn't have any hope. She said, 'I don't have any purpose and I'm tired. My body's failing me and I don't know why. I've had pain for a long time and I don't want to endure it anymore and I'm just a burden.' And I told her why she wasn't and told her she was loved. And as a guy who, professionally, is supposed to be able to convince people with words to do something, I couldn't reach her.
"She said, 'I'm tired of being tired. And I just want to go. And she said, 'Do you want to hear it?' And I said, 'No, I don't.' And she hung up the phone."
Marshall said he called the police.
"I continued to call her phone and she didn't answer," Marshall said. "And then we learned she had died from a gunshot wound in that apartment. And our lives changed. They changed forever."
Marshall described his wife's illness as "the most personal secret this family has but yet that was robbed from us" by media coverage.
Marshall said that he hoped his wife's struggle with mental illness and subsequent death will help others dealing with similar situations.
"There was never a doubt of her love for the people standing behind me or our love for her," Marshall said.
Marshall said he has asked himself if accepting the appointment as attorney general last year ultimately led to his wife's decision to take her own life.
"For me, I wonder whether or not if I wasn't attorney general, would she still be alive?" he said. "Whether I hadn't chosen public service, would she still be here today? And I'll be haunted by that for the rest of my life."
Marshall said he felt like his words failed to convince her to understand that "she didn't need to do what she did."
"I hope some day to be able to forget that conversation we had that Sunday morning and remember what she did for others," Marshall said.
Marshall provided no insight into his campaign to win a full term as the state's top law enforcement official. Appointed as AG last year, Marshall faces Troy King in the Republican primary runoff on July 17.
Marshall concluded his remarks by reading a note that Bridgette had left for him on her birthday and the day after the primary election. Marshall won the plurality of votes but did not garner more than 50 percent of the vote, forcing the runoff.
"Steve, I knew you would pull this off," the note said. "It was a great birthday gift I knew was coming. You are the man for the job in Alabama. I love you more than you will ever know and couldn't be more proud how you handled it all as you always do with grace. I love you. Love, Bridgette."
"That is the woman I will celebrate this week," Marshall said. "That is the life I will share with others. And that is the life I will remember. Please allow us to celebrate that life and no longer have to discuss her death."
(c)2018 Alabama Media Group, Birmingham