GULFPORT — The foreclosure process started more than two years ago. Papers were served. Hearings held. Judges ruled. Back and forth it went, inexorably. Like millions across the nation, Boyd Rubright, 71, was slowly losing his home.
The writ of possession — the final document that strips someone of a foreclosed home — was signed Nov. 2. The occupant received 24 hours' notice. Then, ready or not, he had to go.
Monday was the day.
The bank representative was the first to arrive at 5840 Gulfport Blvd. S. It's the white house with the green trim and the empty birdbath.
The house looked vacant, but the representative thought he saw someone inside. A deputy arrived, and knocked on the front door. He announced himself from the outside, loudly.
No one answered.
The bank sent someone to drill through the lock. It was 9:02 a.m. when the drilling stopped. The busted lock hit the floor inside.
That's when they heard the gunshot.
• • •
The deputy moved everyone away from the house and called for backup. Then he and a Gulfport officer went inside, weapons drawn.
They found Rubright slumped in an armchair in a small room. Police said he placed the barrel of a .357-caliber revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
The officers couldn't find a pulse; paramedics were called.
His oldest daughter learned about the shooting when she talked to a St. Petersburg Times reporter Wednesday night.
"When the foreclosure started a couple of years ago, he told us that he was not giving up his house for anything," said Margaret Fitzgibbons, 44. "They would have to take him out or he'd kill himself.
"That's why I wasn't surprised."
• • •
It's hard to find anyone who really knew Rubright. Everyone knew a piece of the man. But not the whole.
He was married and divorced three times. His last marriage ended in 2007. He has three daughters and a son from the first two. The son and a daughter want nothing to do with him.
The other two daughters tried to reconnect with their father. Fitzgibbons, who lives in New York, wanted her three children to know their grandfather.
It hasn't been easy. Depressed. Difficult. Disconnected. That's how the oldest daughter described her estranged father. They didn't meet until she was 14.
Rubright spent two decades working at Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish. He left three years ago. He either quit, was fired, or retired, depending on whom you ask.
His health was failing, but he kept checking himself out of the hospital. He lived on Social Security and couldn't afford the house payments anymore.
As foreclosure loomed, Fitzgibbons said she and her half sister asked Rubright to come back to New York to live with them.
He refused. He had been in that house for two decades.
He threatened to take his own life. His daughters didn't know what to do.
"He didn't want to leave his home," she said. "He said if he left his home he couldn't keep his guns and smoke his pot."
• • •
Mental health issues. Substance abuse. Stress. Hopelessness. Withdrawing from loved ones and friends. Mood swings. Rage. All classic warning signs of suicide.
Suicides hit a 12-year high in Florida in 2008, when 2,723 people took their own lives, according to the state. Pinellas County also had a record that year, with 177 suicides.
Is Florida's sour economy and unending housing crisis to blame? The cause of suicide is always greater than a single problem. But the economy has definitely become a factor.
"Dangerous times are times of transition," said Senta Goudy, director of the Florida Statewide Office of Suicide Prevention. "It's the loss of a spouse, the loss of a home, the loss of a job. Those are the times when a person is most at risk.
"They don't have the support network they need. They don't have a place to talk to somebody when they lose hope."
Pinellas sheriff's deputies evict people in landlord-tenant disputes and foreclosures about 300 times a month in the county.
It's rare for someone to still be living there by that point.
Sgt. Richard North oversees the court processing unit, which always seems to be delivering bad news: witness subpoenas, foreclosures, evictions, domestic violence injunctions.
While rare, Rubright isn't the first person to try to take his own life in the moment they must face leaving their home.
North has seen it a handful of times in the last 10 years.
It almost happened last month. A 42-year-old Clearwater man who was being evicted in a family dispute tried to hang himself. The deputy forced his way inside and pulled the man down from the belt tied around his neck.
"He saved his life," North said.
The man told the deputy he didn't have anywhere to go.
• • •
Paramedics arrived at 5840 Gulfport Blvd. S just minutes after the gunshot. When they checked Rubright, they were able to find a pulse.
They rushed him to Bayfront Medical Center, where he has been in critical condition since Monday. Police believe the bullet may have missed his skull and instead went through his throat.
His prognosis is unknown. Rubright has not regained consciousness. But one of his few friends, 69-year-old Karla Kegerise, visited him Wednesday.
"I went down to pray with him and he looked good," she said.
His two daughters desperately want to fly down to visit him. But they can't afford it. Susan Rubright, 40, lost her job as an administrative assistant on Nov. 1. She has three children.
"They need us at the hospital," she said, crying on the phone from her home in New York. "We're his only next of kin, and they can't make any decisions without us.
"But we can't afford it at all. I can't even pay my rent."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8472.