AUGUSTA — Anthony Voytasko keeps replaying the conversations in his mind, looking for clues. Surely, if anyone knew of Kelly Voytasko’s intention to end her life, it would have been her husband, but Anthony never saw it coming.

Deep down he believes he should have known, that he somehow just missed the obvious, but he still can’t see it.

“I’d ask her if she was suicidal and she’d say, ‘No,'” Voytasko said. “I didn’t notice anything different. I didn’t expect this at all. She was a strong woman.”

Police continue to investigate Kelly Voytasko’s disappearance as a missing person, but investigators believe she is the woman who on March 21 walked out on the ice near Kennebec Plaza and jumped into an open section of the Kennebec River. State Wardens and Marine Patrol discontinued the search for the woman’s body because of dangerous conditions created by the swift moving river and ice.

Kelly Voytasko, 54, was reported missing around that same time.

“Based on the totality of the circumstances, there is high probability that she is the person we are looking for,” Deputy Chief Jared Mills of the Augusta Police said last week.

Anthony Voytasko believes it is his wife. Kelly left behind too many items, like her wedding ring, cellphone and all of her credit cards and money, to draw any other conclusion. She left behind her purse, but did take her driver’s license, presumably so that she could be identified when found. Anthony said Kelly had been suffering from a deep depression and had previously made suicidal threats, but she would never just leave her friends and family behind to move to another part of the country.

Even as he tries to come to grips with her death, Anthony is wondering if Kelly could still be alive. If she is, where is she and is she OK? Anthony has scoured the apartment for a note. Kelly never wrote one.

“This is not who she is,”Anthony said. “She loved everyone and everyone loved her.”

Experts say the signs that someone is thinking about ending their life can be subtle, such as giving things away or cleaning things.

Sometimes those who are suicidal increase their drug or alcohol use. Changes in sleep or appetite, or simple enjoyment of life and relationships, can signal trouble.

“There are often little signs that people can see,” said Jenna Mehnert, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine. She said sometimes people notice the signs but are afraid to broach the subject with the person about whom they are concerned.

“For lots of people, it’s such an uncomfortable topic that if someone says something, they don’t even know how to respond,” Mehnert said. She recommends a direct approach, like Anthony Voytasko took, to question whether the person is feeling the urge to hurt him or herself.

NAMI provides free training for people who want to learn skills for detecting and addressing loved ones who may be feeling suicidal urges.

“A big part of preventing suicide is equipping people with what to say and what to look for,” Mehnert said. “It’s not something they teach at school.”

There is help for those who are feeling urges to hurt themselves, Mehnert said, but there also is support for families dealing with the aftermath of a suicide. “There are a lot of feelings connected to this issue,” she said. “Ignoring them is not going to be helpful. People feel like they shouldn’t talk about it. They somehow feel like their grief should be hidden.”

Though incidents of suicide declined statewide last year from 236 in 2013 to 206 in 2014, there was a sharp rise in Kennebec County, where the total number of suicides increased from 15 in 2013 to 24 in 2014. Not only was that a bigger increase than any other county in the state, but Kennebec County experienced the third most suicides behind only Cumberland and York counties, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

A TOUGH LIFE

Kelly Voytasko was raised in Augusta and, except for a brief stint in Gardiner, spent her life there. She went to the University of Maine at Augusta to study computers, Anthony said. Kelly has two grown children from previous marriages, both of whom still live in Maine. Her sister and mother live in Augusta. Anthony and Kelly married in 2007, but much of the life she lived before they met remains a mystery to him.

Some of what she shared left Anthony shaken. He keeps those secrets to himself.

“She had a rough life,” Anthony said. “She had a tough, tough life.”

Kelly and Anthony are both active at a local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They met there about eight years ago and married a year later. She loved to hear preaching and to talk to people about the Bible, Anthony said.

“She’d talk to anybody that was willing to listen,” he said. “She was really an outgoing person.”

Kelly picked out the decor that neatly decorates the couple’s third-floor apartment. Pretty synthetic flowers are draped over the swing where she would sit on nice days and watch the river. A little shelf near the rail held her garden. She and neighbors in recent years had planted bigger gardens, vegetables mostly, on the ground directly below the deck.

“She loved to garden,” Anthony said. “She loved to watch things grow.”

Her cousin, Deana Amptman of Augusta, said Kelly also enjoyed arts and crafts.

“She liked to spend quiet time doing those things,” Amptman said.

Kelly was known for her good-natured teasing and jokes, like the time she sent a “family tree” to Amptman’s mother that consisted of a branch full of nuts, but she also knew when to be tender. When Amptman broke her ankle, it was Kelly who showed up at her doorstep, bringing flowers and offering to help.

“She was very kind-hearted,” Amptman said. “She’ll be missed. Very much so.”

Kelly suffered from seasonal afffective disorder and depression for as long as Anthony knew her, but both were kept in check with treatment, Anthony said.

“She was a happy, bubbly person before she had this downfall with major depression,” Anthony said.

DARK TIMES

Kelly had experienced tough times before, but this time she continued to spiral, Anthony said. She started giving things away to people. She said she was going to pass on gardening this year because it was too much work.

“It was kind of subtle,” Anthony said. “I didn’t think too much of it.”

By December, Kelly had reached a point that Anthony had never seen before. He could see the pain on her face, but every time he asked she would say she felt fine physically. Anthony asked if he had done something to upset her, so did her other family members, but each time the answer was no. Kelly, like those who loved her, was at a loss to explain what she was feeling. Anthony thought maybe her past was catching up with her. He also recalled that Kelly’s doctor, responding to a rash, had changed her depression medication.

“That could have been her downfall, too,” Anthony said. “It just seems like a big mystery.”

In December, Kelly was forced to take a break from the Department of Health and Human Services, where she had worked as a clerk for the previous 13 years. Anthony, scared at what his wife was experiencing, sought out help.

“I said, ‘Kelly, you have to go to the hospital,'” Anthony said. “I’d never seen her like this. She didn’t want to talk. We didn’t have conversations like we usually do. Mentally, she couldn’t function.”

Kelly spent two weeks at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta before she was released to undergo treatment on an outpatient basis. She completed that four-week program at the end of February and was scheduled to begin meeting with a therapist next month.

“I would have made sure she went,” Anthony said.

KELLY IS GONE

Anthony said that Saturday was just like any other day. He went out to get some food, leaving Kelly alone in their apartment.

“Her demeanor was just the same,” Anthony said. “If I would have noticed something, I never would have went to the store. I would have called the ambulance or something.” Anthony knew something was wrong as soon as he got home and found Kelly was gone. The first sign of trouble was the unlocked door. That was unlike Kelly. Anthony thought Kelly had probably just gone for a walk, but he called her sister, Venus, just to check. She went searching for Kelly and found police trying to get a woman off the ice. Venus called Anthony.

“I almost kind of knew,” he said.

Amptman said she received the news of her cousin’s apparent death with a lot of sadness, but a small measure of surprise.

“I didn’t question who it was, I’ll put it that way,” Amptman said. “I knew Kelly was having a hard time with life in general. We all do sometimes. Sometimes we can work through it and sometimes we can’t, or we feel we can’t.”

As he replays the recent months in his mind, there’s so much Anthony wishes he could go back and change to somehow change the outcome. If he could, Kelly never would have left the hospital after two weeks. She might even still be there.

“She should have never left,” Anthony said. “I didn’t want her to leave, and she didn’t even want to leave. She felt that she needed more help.”

Anthony acknowledged that Kelly, though still deeply depressed, did not appear to be worsening, and there had been no threats of suicide since before she went into the hospital.

Amptman said she believes Kelly was released from the hospital for financial reasons.

“It always comes down to the dollar,” she said. “People end up competing with the dollar, and the dollar wins every time. I don’t know that she was denied help, but it just wasn’t adequate.”

A MaineGeneral Medical Center spokeswoman said federal law prohibits her from discussing Kelly’s care or even from acknowledging she was a patient.

But Hannah Longley, crisis clinical manager for Crisis & Counseling Centers, a nonprofit social service agency, said hospitalization is meant to provide acute care to help a patient become stable. Many of the underlying concerns cannot be addressed until the patient goes home and begins receiving outpatient therapy.

“It’s real life experiences and relationships that help people,” she said.

SEEKING CLOSURE

Longley said questions like those Anthony is asking are common for those who lose loved ones to suicide. Those left behind question themselves and their actions, but ultimately those questions can never be answered and can even prolong the grieving process. People normally take a year or two to work through the expected death of a loved one, Longley said. The period can more than double when the death is unexpected.

While it’s not helpful to look back, Longley said those concerned about a loved one can look for signs of suicidal urges, including changes in mood or behavior.

Anthony Voytasko said he is struggling to function as he tries to make sense of what happened.

“I have my faith,” he said. “I have a very loving congregation. They’re very supportive of me.”

Amptman hopes her family grows closer as they pass through these days, but she sees little chance for healing until Kelly’s body is recovered.

“Waiting is the hardest thing anybody has to do,” Amptman said.

The uncertainty has trapped Anthony in the shadows between grief and hope. His wife is gone, but he can’t plan a funeral. How do you begin to grieve for someone you hope might not be gone?

“It’s kind of torture not knowing,” Anthony said. “I really believe it’s her in the water, but there’s no closure until they find her.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.