Jebb Muir, 44, was killed by South Salt Lake police on Tuesday. Family and friends remember him as a “loving, caring, incredible person,” who went through a mental health crisis. (Muir family photo)
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SOUTH SALT LAKE — “What could I have done differently to have this not have happened?”
That question has been on Jason Willford’s mind ever since his yearslong friend, Jebb Muir, was killed by South Salt Lake police.
Police say they were called to a report of a man with a gun late Monday, just before midnight, near 400 East and Robert Avenue (2500 South) and “an exchange of gunfire occurred.” One officer was taken to the hospital with an undisclosed injury, and Muir was pronounced dead at the scene.
In the days before his death, Muir’s friends and family say he went through a drastic decline in terms of his mental health, becoming increasingly paranoid and manic.
Friends say Muir’s wife was worried by the sudden changes, and helped him seek professional help and medication to treat his mental health. She even called the police earlier on the night of Muir’s death asking them to complete a wellness check or confiscate Muir’s guns, but was told police couldn’t do anything because he “seemed fine.”
South Salt Lake police spokeswoman Danielle Croyle said Thursday that two officers were called about 6:50 pm Monday to perform a “standby assist” regarding Muir and his wife. According to police, the wife needed to collect some things from her house and wanted police standing by in case there was a problem with Muir. Croyle said nothing in the police report filed by the officers mentioned a mental health crisis.
Officers talked to both parties involved, and “there was no indication of any mental health crisis that needed immediate attention,” Croyle said. She also said there is no indication in the officers’ report whether the wife made a request for guns to be removed from her house.
Friends of Muir, however, say although his wife did everything possible to get him the care he needed, the system didn’t work in time.
“What happened was Jebb wasn’t treated for whatever mental issue was going on,” Willford said. “That was perfectly clear. His wife took every step that they should have taken to get him help and get him treatment — and was denied. And then it ended in this.”
‘There’s no way he would do that’
Friends say the Muir portrayed in news reports about his death is nothing like the “amazing,” “kindhearted” and “loving” man they knew. In a letter written by Rachel Willford, another family friend of Muir’s, Muir was described as a “servant to everyone” who taught preschool-aged kids at church and spent years mentoring a Burmese refugee family.
“He was the one at the grill at the barbecue making sure everyone was fed,” she said. “He was the one playing with the kids in the water. He was the one who showed up and never wanted the recognition. He was the husband who linked arms with his wife and showed up, day after day, serving everyone he met.”
Jason Willford said Muir was often the first to show up to set up for church or neighborhood events, and stayed to help clean up after everyone else left.
He said he spoke with Muir for three hours the night Muir was killed, trying to calm him down from what seemed to be a manic episode. Still, he said, he didn’t believe things would escalate further.
“If I had any worry in my mind that he would ever hurt anybody, I would have dropped what I was doing and gone to get him,” he said. “I knew he was angry and going through some stuff, I just didn’t put the violence together with that, because it’s Jebb. And that’s what’s killing everybody right now — there’s no way he would do that.”
“I keep thinking, ‘Why didn’t I go over there?'” he continued. “Why didn’t I … go pick him up and go get coffee? You know? What could I have done differently to have this not have happened? There’s also — now there’s no Jebb. I don’t know how this could have played out — if any of us could have done anything different.”
If I had any worry in my mind that he would ever hurt anybody, I would have dropped what I was doing and gone to get him. I knew he was angry and going through some stuff, I just didn’t put the violence together with that, because it’s Jebb. And that’s what’s killing everybody right now — there’s no way he would do that.
–Jason Willford, friend of Jebb Muir
What can be done?
Rachel Willford said she wanted to tell Muir’s story, not just because she didn’t want him to be defined by this incident, but because she wants to do what she can to make sure others can get the help they need before it’s too late. While she admits she doesn’t have all the answers, she said she hopes police departments will provide more training for officers handling mental health crises, or provide social workers or other professionals to assist police in those situations.
“There’s a lack of education and understanding on all of this,” she said. “We’re seeing that across the board in Utah with such high suicide rates. When a police officer gets involved in an already elevated situation, those are the opportunities to bring in a professional who understands mental health.”
Jason Willford said he doesn’t fault the officers for defending themselves, but thinks more could have been done to prevent the situation from escalating in the first place.
“The cops said, ‘He seems fine to me,’ but how would they know whether he’s acting differently when they’ve only known him for five minutes?” he asked. “I never saw anything like that, and I’ve known him for years. And it was just, all of a sudden, there was a change and then it got worse. I don’t know, but something got missed, I feel like.”
“This was not a bad guy doing bad things,” Rachel Willford said. “This was an amazing man who experienced a tragic mental health decline and seemed like he felt he had no way out. We just really want everyone to know that this was an amazing man. This was a loving, caring incredible person that — thousands of people — he’s impacted their lives and they’re going to be affected by this.”
Contributing: Pat Reavy
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