Many in the black and Caribbean communities reeled over news of the recent apparent suicide of Lowell Hawthorne, founder and CEO of Golden Krust Bakery & Grill, with commentary ranging from the proverbial “Money cannot buy happiness” to true befuddlement: “Why would he do it?”
For those searching for an answer to explain his actions, several media outlets are reporting that Hawthorne feared that the federal government was investigating him for millions in tax evasion.
According to the New York Post, a family member told detectives that Hawthorne told some of his relatives about his tax burden and was “acting funny” and “talking to himself” in the hours before his suicide:
Surveillance video shows the meat-pie mogul shooting himself in the head at his office inside the Golden Krust bakery and warehouse in the Bronx, said the source, who was briefed on the NYPD investigation into the shooting.
Before the shooting, the video shows Hawthorne speaking with a pair of workers who left the room, both of whom were crouched down when they later returned to his office, sources said.
It was unclear if they saw Hawthorne kill himself, but one of them could be seen making a cellphone call, which a source said was to 911.
As reported earlier by The Root, the 57-year-old was the founder of the Golden Krust franchise, which was, by all measures, very successful, with 120 stores across 19 states in the U.S.; Hawthorne had a reported net worth of $71 million.
If follow-up stories about his untimely death are any indication, the news was a shock and surprise to most, according to the New York Times. The husband, father and grandfather was described as upbeat and “the same” in the days and weeks before his death.
So does this money issue answer the question about Hawthorne’s apparent suicide? Did he suffer from major depression (the reason for the vast majority of suicides) and mask it well? Was he overcome by fear of financial ruin (another common reason for suicide)? Or a combination of both?
The majority of those who commit suicide keep their mouths shut about it and just do it. And with the proliferation of and easy access to guns in this country, it has become easier than ever to pull the trigger and end one’s life (a gun was used in Hawthorne’s case).
Although the rate of black men committing suicide has decreased in the last several years, statistics show that older men are the likeliest of all groups to kill themselves.
And though many who go through with suicide don’t say anything that day, most will have told someone ahead of time of their ideations or plans. According to psychiatrist Charles Raison in a 2012 CNN article, “I Hate Suicide but I Also Understand It”: “Any such communications should be taken with utmost seriousness, and all efforts should be made to keep the person safe and get him or her to appropriate treatment immediately.”
In these cases, Dr. Raison also recommends removing the means for committing suicide from the environment: Guns should be taken out of the house. Pain pills should be put elsewhere.
The Post reports that Hawthorne left a note that may or may not have given a reason for his death. But for his friends, family, admirers and customers, his suicide will forever remain a painful legacy and enigma that ended his life far too soon.
If someone you know is suffering from depression or has expressed suicidal thoughts or ideations, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or the National Alliance on Mental Illness for support in your area.