WATERVILLE — Shirley Kershner will never forget the call she got Thursday from a police officer who had news about her son, Anthony.

“The minute he asked if I was Shirley, I just knew this was the call that I dreaded. He said, ‘I’m sorry, but your son, Anthony Kershner, is dead.’ It was like somebody took a two-by-four and hit me in the head.'”

Shirley Kershner, 67, a mental health case manager who also works part time in the state Division of Motor Vehicles in Augusta, was devastated.

Her son’s body had been discovered by passersby, lying beside the railroad tracks below a bridge abutment on North Street in Waterville.

She knew instinctively what had not yet been confirmed — that he had likely taken his own life. Police said they did not suspect foul play in the death, which occurred in a well-traveled area within a residential neighborhood.

The 46-year-old had suffered from schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder for many years, Shirley said, and he was tortured by voices in his head and spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals.

“I found directions on how to make a noose under his bed,” Shirley Kershner said. “He purchased rope in July.”

Her pain is especially poignant because for many years, she had no communication with her son, who had moved from Waterville to Bangor and cut all ties with her and other members of the family. “I think that’s when the illness started taking over,” she said.

She didn’t even know his diagnosis until she later worked in the mental health field — he was his own legal guardian and she was not privy to his records, she said.

“I didn’t see him for so many years. I would go to Bangor all the time. It used to kill me to think that I might not even know what my child looked like. I would sit in the car outside his apartment to hope to get a glimpse of him.”

Every year, for years, she sent him birthday and Christmas cards. She sent checks he never cashed. But she was determined to keep letting him know she loved and cared about him.

As a child, he had been a loner.

“Kids made fun of him and teased him,” she said. “He never fit in. He loved playing soccer and when he graduated from Waterville High School in 1991, Cindy Lepley, a Thomas college professor, took him under her wing and he spent a semester at Thomas and then transferred to University of Maine, Orono. Father Frank Murray up at a church in Bangor took him under his wing and has been a part of his life ever since.”

At some point, Anthony spent all his money to buy a ticket to Florida and left the state, but decided to come back. Murray convinced him to reach out to his mother for help and Anthony agreed to let her pick him up in Boston, she said.

Her heart was overwhelmed at the thought that she was re-connecting with her son. She brought him back to her home in Waterville where his illnesses continued to plague him.

She recalled hanging out clothes outside and hearing him inside the house, yelling at the voices that were not actually there. Her heart broke for him.

“He was very soft-spoken but when the voices were in his head, he was loud and used vulgar language,” she said. “Tony was Catholic and very religious, but the voices weren’t. They got him to say and do things he would feel ashamed about afterward.”

HOW MUCH IT HURT

Shirley Kershner said she set Anthony up in an apartment on Center Street in Waterville, not far from the Rite Aid on Main Street.

“I wanted him to be safe. I bought him clothes, I took him to where he needed to go, I got him an apartment to live as normally as possible. I used to make sure I connected with him once a week.”

He was connected to a team including a doctor, case manager and registered nurse — a requirement he had to fulfill in order to be released from a hospital.

His mother had taken him to see the doctor a week before he died.

Anthony had tried to commit suicide by cutting his wrist in February and was hospitalized. He became obsessed with the scar on his wrist, according to his mother.

“He kept talking about it and how much it hurt. In February he bought knives and saws to cut his wrist. He called me. I went over and I called 911 and he went to Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook. After his wrist healed he wasn’t satisfied so he got the doctor to do a follow-up surgery in August.”

Anthony was determined to take his life, according to his mother, who said he apparently went to the bridge abutment on North Street Thursday morning and jumped to the railroad tracks below.

“That’s what they’re saying that they think happened,” she said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the state Medical Examiner’s Office had not returned repeated requests seeking an official cause of death.

“He had no identification on him, so I’m not sure it was planned,” Shirley Kershner said of that death. “I don’t know why he thought it was the right time. Maybe the voices convinced him.”

While she knew the day would come, she wishes it had not been so soon.

“I just wanted more time — that’s all I asked for. Police found his cellphone in his apartment and when they opened the cellphone it said, ‘Mom,’ and my cell number.”

NEVER GIVE UP

Shirley Kershner had gone into the mental health field, never imagining she would because she had been around people with mental health issues growing up — two siblings with special needs and a grandmother who died in a mental institution, she said. But working in the field helped her understand her son.

“I was working at Riverview — that’s what really bonded us together, the fact that I was in the field and he asked me questions about it. He knew I understood what he was going through.”

She was referring to Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.

On Mother’s Day last year, she had both Anthony and another son, Daniel, from Georgia, with her, which was a blessing. She said Anthony had never did get to meet Daniel’s wife and two children. She said Anthony and Danny have a half brother, Trevor, who lives in Clinton and has a little girl whom Anthony adored.

“Tony loved that little girl so much when they were here. He bonded with the cat here. He was always very attentive to my cat and he’d say he’d like to volunteer in the Waterville library in the children’s section. He was very sensitive but he didn’t share much about himself with people. He didn’t have friends.”

On Anthony’s birthday in March, Lepley attended and everyone talked about how happy they were that he was back in Waterville, according to his mother.

Asked what she would want people to know about her son or about those who struggle with mental illness in general, she said people should never give up on them.

“I don’t think anybody should give up on hoping that someday they’re going to get that phone call. I had to believe that one day, out of the blue, I’d pick up that phone and I’d hear his voice, and that’s exactly what happened.”

As much as she feels fortunate to have finally spent time with Anthony, she also knew it would not last.

“I anticipated that this was going to come and I was always afraid of what was going to happen to him if I went first,” she said.

Besides his mother and brothers, Anthony Kershner is survived by his father, Ronald Kershner and his girlfriend, Nancy Johnston, of Waterville, according to his obituary.

Services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, at the church where Anthony was a member — Notre Dame Catholic Church, on Silver Street.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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