Nobody thought it was particularly odd that Staff Sgt. Steven Hines went in to work on Super Bowl Sunday.
The Fort Hood, Texas-based Army Criminal Investigation Command special agent sent his wife a text message at 9:35 that morning, then stopped responding. By later that night, she knew something was wrong, and contacted the military police to go check on him.
“You and [redacted] deserve better,” he had written. “I’m sorry.”
Authorities found Hines, 30, a member of the 11th Military Police Battalion, about 50 yards behind his office building, dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, with his issued M11 at his side.
“Losing Agent Hines is not an experience we will soon forget, but it has also empowered our command to continue to move aggressively forward on several resiliency initiatives to prevent a tragic loss like this in the future,” CID spokesman Chris Grey told Army Times in a statement.
Half a dozen colleagues who spoke to investigators described Hines as quiet, and at times robotic, as they recounted the list of issues that had piled up in the three years since he’d arrived at Fort Hood CID.
Hines had been referred to Army behavioral health and had some coworkers who checked in with him, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.
The husband and new father had argued with his wife the morning of Feb. 5 about his reluctance to see a therapist, the investigators found.
Security cameras at his office building caught him walking in at 9:10 am, then going out the back door 20 minutes later. He was found in a field behind the building, but there were no recordings of that area.
After authorities discovered, secured and removed Hines’ body that night, a colleague came into work the next morning to discover what he’d been doing in the office.
Hines had left behind Post-It notes with instructions for where to find things in his desk, as well as a few things on a coworker’s desk.
“I sat my coffee cup down on my desk and noticed sets of keys, a watch, and a yellow sticky note that stated ‘I’m sorry – Hines’ on my desk,” the agent said in a statement.
Struggling to cope
Special Agent Hines joined in the Army in 2007 and served at Fort Riley, Kansas, just before reporting to Fort Hood in 2014.
He quickly made an impression, but not for good reasons. During a Critical Incident Peer Support course that year, he off-handedly confessed to have thought about killing himself.
He was referred to behavioral health but didn’t take it seriously, the report found.
“Follow-up appointment with Ms. [redacted] for the nervous breakdown I had back in November 2014,” he wrote in a calendar invite that went to coworkers. “Getting better about communicating and talking about my feelings involving stupid people.”
Hines was known to avoid discussing his stress or seeking support.
CID does, however, have resources for agents.
“In the past few years we have added Army Chaplains, a Command Forensic Psychiatrist and a Psychologist to spearhead our command’s Wellness Program,” Grey said. “The program will be comprised of providers with prior law enforcement experience who can relate to and understand the unique stressors that our people face.”
Colleagues described Hines as generally stressed and incapable of sharing his feelings with others. He also habitually struggled to pass his PT test and weapon certifications, which numerous colleagues counseled him through.
“Hines tried hard at being an agent, but it appeared difficult for him as he didn’t appear to have any empathy or sympathy for other people’s situations,” one said in a statement.
“SSG Hines’ main issue workwise was that he did not like dealing with people, and he commented several times that he was unable to connect with victims or build rapport with subjects,” a colleague said in a statement.
His problems multiplied there, as three victims filed complaints against him, and his chain of command opened a dereliction of duty investigation.
“He needed constant supervision, his cases were not great, and he was not good with talking to victims,” one coworker said in a statement. “The supervisors all knew these things, also.”
In the meantime, his problems at home mounted. Colleagues described Hines as a big video gamer who often clashed with his wife over how he spent his time.
“His outlook on life seemed a bit childish at times, and he didn’t have his priorities straight,” one coworker said. “Most of the time he would talk more about going home and doing stuff with his video games than his family.”
Another added that he’d left his wife at the hospital with family shortly after labor to return home and game.
But despite the tension, both coworkers said his wife described Hines as improving in the last months of his life.
Though he was moved from Special Victims Unit to economic crimes in light of the inquiry, he was promoted to staff sergeant, attended the Advanced Leader Course and seemed to be in better spirits, they said.
“SA Hines didn’t want people involved in his life or problems, so we were trying to come up with training for the whole unit or new parents so he didn’t feel singled out,” a colleague said. “We all kind of kept an eye on SA Hines, and it seemed as if things were getting easier at home with the new baby because he complained less.”
Hines’ wife told investigators that he had begun bringing her coffee in bed and paying her compliments in the weeks before his death, and that she felt like he was coming around.
But ultimately Hines could not overcome his struggles, leaving his apologies behind on Post-It notes.
For his fellow agents at CID, Grey has a message.
“The wellness of our agents and helping to create a support system and culture for positive mental health for our special agents,” Grey said, “is of the utmost importance to this command’s senior leadership.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.