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Brother recalls efforts to help

In the 24 hours preceding a shootout with Henderson SWAT officers, a suicidal Eric Thatcher never loosened his grip on a handgun, claimed helicopters were watching the house, and at times did not recognize his older brother.

"He was sitting there with his guns, and I thought for sure he was going to shoot me. Sometimes he didn’t know who I was and would accuse me of being in on the conspiracy," said brother Ron Thatcher, 39, who took a last-second flight to Las Vegas from San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday to try to save his depressed sibling.

Thatcher said his 38-year-old brother, a state fire marshal’s office investigator and former Nevada Highway Patrol trooper, had considered suicide several times before but never attempted it. So he made Eric promise to call before he took his life.

On Wednesday afternoon about 1 p.m., Eric Thatcher made that phone call.

"He said, ‘You told me I should give you one last call,’ and then hung up," Thatcher said. "I got on the first plane to Vegas."

Upon arrival a few hours later, Thatcher said his brother was in the worst shape he had seen. He tried every method he knew to talk him out of killing himself: pleading, bargaining, even yelling. His brother refused to put away the guns, he said.

At one point that night, Thatcher thought his brother was seconds away from ending his life. Not wanting to be there when it happened, he left the house.

As he walked away, his brother called his cell phone, asking him to come back.

"I told him if he (expletive) pointed that gun at me I’d rip him apart. He said, ‘I’d never shoot you, I can’t even shoot myself,’ " Thatcher said. "I went back in and tried the best I could."

By Thursday morning, with both men running on zero sleep and Eric’s mental state in constant decline, Thatcher said he considered attacking him and taking the guns away.

After some consideration, he decided he couldn’t risk it.

"I felt like my life was in danger," Thatcher said. "He’d been awake for at least four days straight, wasn’t thinking straight."

Later that morning, after several hours of emotional discussion, Eric snapped. All hope Thatcher had of saving his brother was gone, he said.

Malissa, Eric Thatcher’s estranged wife, had called to check on Eric, who had been sending cryptic text messages for several days. Malissa had recently moved out of the home they shared in the 2700 block of Auchmull Street, south of Sun City Anthem Drive, Thatcher said.

She also took their two young children with her, which completely devastated Eric and was a major component in his depression, Thatcher said.

"He had been with them every single day, and now he wasn’t seeing them for a week at a time," he said. "He was cracking up (being) by himself in that house."

After Malissa’s phone call, the details of which Ron Thatcher doesn’t know, Eric Thatcher began to tear the house apart and retrieved several high-powered assault rifles from his gun safe.

That was the point Ron Thatcher grabbed his bag and began walking toward the airport, he said, where he would eventually take the first flight available back to San Jose.

"I was trying to talk him out of killing himself to the very end," Thatcher said via phone interview, his voice sometimes cracking. "I did all I could for the guy."

A short time after Thatcher left the home, SWAT and patrol cars passed him on the road, he said. Less than 15 minutes later, he received a call on his phone from a police officer who asked whether his brother owned weapons.

In the middle of the conversation, Thatcher said, he heard rapid gunfire through the phone speaker. The officer ended the call. But Thatcher kept walking.

He doesn’t know who called police, but said he would never do that to his brother, who had come to view police officers as the enemy.

"Nevada Highway Patrol killed my brother a long time ago. I believe it 100 percent in my soul," he said.

Eric Thatcher’s problems with depression began in 2005, when the then-Highway Patrol trooper was fired after an internal investigation into his arrest of a hit-and-run suspect who accused him of using excessive force.

After he challenged his firing, a hearing master determined the internal investigation was "seriously flawed" and reinstated him with full back pay.

He returned to the Highway Patrol for a time before voluntarily transferring to the state fire marshal’s office, which is also under the Department of Public Safety.

Ron Thatcher said his brother drained every penny of his savings to defend himself from the accusations.

"He really fought back," he said. "The whole thing was a setup for other guys trying to advance their careers by chucking him under the bus."

Despite regaining his job, he never felt accepted by fellow troopers. Eric Thatcher believed he was one misstep away from being back-stabbed by his bosses, which began to wear on him psychologically.

Ron Thatcher said his brother didn’t take any prescription medications.

He was a "perfectionist" who had never done a bad deed in his life, Ron Thatcher said, and being investigated and treated like a criminal really shook him.

"As a kid, he’d be the one standing over to the side, saying that we were gonna get in trouble," he said. "I didn’t really even get into trouble, and if I was the black sheep, he was really the perfect kid."

Eric Thatcher’s anger toward police continued to simmer, even as he began another career as a fire official.

When Henderson police officers checked the home two separate times earlier in the week in response to friends reporting concerns about his safety, Eric Thatcher believed officers were conspiring to stalk his house, waiting for him to do something, Ron Thatcher said.

"He thought that once the police came, that was his wife’s opportunity to have him never see the kids again," he said. "That was when he went nuts and started saying he was going to kill himself."

Henderson Police Department officials said details of the incident will be released at a Clark County coroner’s inquest at a later date.

It’s unclear whether Thatcher, who police say fired his weapon at officers, was killed by return fire or whether he took his own life. The coroner’s office did not release cause and manner of death Friday.

Ron Thatcher said he doesn’t believe his brother intended to harm officers.

He was a good person with an honest heart and suffered more than a person should in his final few weeks.

"(Our family) loved him and will miss him," Ron Thatcher said. "It is really a hard thing to deal with, and my only hope is that my brother has found peace."

Review-Journal writer Antonio Planas contributed to this report. Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.

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