Makeshift memorial marks suicide of Carrie Barnhart in Astoria

From The Daily Astorian, May 2015

At dawn on a drizzly Monday morning, Artanya Barnhart placed a makeshift cross and arranged some flowers in a patch under the Astoria Bridge.

Carrie Barnhart - 8 2015The cross, made from driftwood, is a memorial to Carrie Barnhart, a 54-year-old mother of six who jumped to her death in April. Tiny handprints represent her children, while little elephants reflect her softer side.

“She was a beautiful, amazing, funny, sweet person that had so much love and compassion for people,” said Artanya Barnhart, 34, the oldest, who lives in Astoria. “She was a somebody. And she mattered.

“My mommy touched so many lives. She was a lover of music, elephants, babies and the color red,” she said. “And most of all, her six children and 11 grandkids that now have to live — and grow up — without their meemaw.”

The family hopes Barnhart’s suicide is not forgotten. Her death has raised concerns about potential gaps in mental health care on the North Coast.

Astoria Police had been called about Barnhart’s suicidal warnings four times in the months before her death. The week before her fatal jump, Astoria Police had pulled her from the bridge after midnight and had taken her to Columbia Memorial Hospital, where she was evaluated by Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare and released after two hours.

Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare has said it would work with Clatsop County and with law enforcement to review the incident and help prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Clatsop County, Columbia Memorial Hospital, Providence Seaside Hospital and Greater Oregon Behavioral Health are moving forward with a crisis respite center in Warrenton, which could provide an alternative for the mentally ill when prison or hospitalization are not options.

Artanya Barnhart shared her gratitude toward the Astoria Police, in particular, for trying to help her mother. She also thanked Norman Tutton, a retired Wyoming police officer who lives in Surf Pines and has taken an interest in the circumstances surrounding Barnhart’s death.

The family has declined to discuss Barnhart’s mental health in detail, other than to say they had tried to help her.

“My mom was battling with mental issues for a long time,” Artanya Barnhart said. “In my opinion, she wasn’t asking for help, she was screaming for help.

“And she did not get the help that she needed.”