Divers search for discarded handgun in Pittsfield's Onota Lake
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PITTSFIELD -- Law enforcement divers scoured Onota Lake on Wednesday in search of a handgun discarded by a local veteran who pondered using it to take his own life.
At the request of the Pittsfield Police Department, the Berkshire County Sheriff's Underwater Search & Rescue Dive Team descended into the water just off the fishing deck at the Onota boat ramp.
Four divers spent the afternoon combing the bottom of the lake, in an area up to 27 feet deep, for a Glock .45 that belonged to Jason Smith of Lenox.
With help from the Hinsdale Fire Department, the divers submerged yellow nylon rope to create an underwater grid pattern to help them search for the weapon. The divers gave up their search after more than three hours.
"Mr. Smith has been cooperating with the investigation," said Pittsfield Police Capt. John Mullen. "We're interested in public safety and want to recover the weapon."
An Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq between 2005 and 2007, Smith was at a low point in his life three years ago when he tossed the gun in the lake, moments after considering suicide.
"If I didn't do get rid of it that night, I would have followed through and used it," he said in a phone interview with The Eagle on Wednesday afternoon.
Smith said the thought of leaving behind his two sons, now ages 6 and 9, convinced him to throw away the gun.
The search was prompted by a letter to the editor published in Thursday's Eagle in which Smith wrote about his frustration dealing with the city's veterans agent, Rosanne Frieri, in trying to readjust to life back home. Frieri, who has been suspended from her post, is embroiled in an administrative dispute with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi regarding her running of her department.
The Eagle has received letters from readers both praising and criticizing how she has assisted individual veterans with benefits and services.
In his letter, Smith wrote of "feeling hopeless, empty and bullied" by Frieri after meeting with her to get help deal with being "mentally damaged" as a result of his military duty.
"There is a Glock .45 handgun that sits about 40 feet out from the Onota pier at 11 o'clock that can attest to that," he said. "It has my saliva on the barrel and my tears on the sight rail."
In concluded his letter, Smith described how he eventually received "mental support" from the Veterans Administration outpatient clinic in Pittsfield and is a "respected" student at Berkshire Community College, where he's studying engineering.
In Wednesday's phone interview, the war veteran acknowledged he's still rattled by going public with his story, but he said it's one he felt must be told.
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