“IT cut us in two when he died.”
The family of a former solider who hanged himself have opened their hearts after the inquest into his death.
William Pemberton, known as Billy, was found dead near the Ropery bar in Sunderland, days after his 28th birthday.
The father-of-one had been struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since leaving the Army, aged 25, after serving with 3 Rifles.
An inquest heard he was found close to the River Wear on the morning of October 2, after leaving his parents’ house in Witherwack, Sunderland.
Grieving father William Senior, 56, said his loving son became violent and suffered flashbacks after serving on two tours of duty in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, after joining the Army when he was just 18. But the keen footballer, dubbed the “Southwick Warrior” by opponents, will always be remembered as a hero by his family, including mother Carol, sister Brooke, 30, and brother Joseph, 24. He also leaves a daughter, Miley, four.
Wiping away tears, William remembers how he handed a keepsake to his son after dropping him off at RAF Brize Norton to begin his Army career.
“I gave him a little statue of Lassie and told him ‘Lassie always comes home’. Well, he did come home, after going to battle four times but he fought the last battle and could not win it. He changed completely.”
About 1,400 mourners turned out to the former Red House Comprehensive pupil’s funeral, before he was laid to rest in Southwick Cemetery.
“Myself and his mam and his sister Brooke were under no illusions that he was suffering from PTSD. We were not just clutching at straws. He told his mam he didn’t want to be here.
“I heard his flashbacks. He cared about the people he was leaving in Iraq and Afghanistan when he was there.
“He even took their problems on board.”
The couple – who are full-time carers to their youngest son, who is autistic – are now appealing to anyone affected by PTSD to seek help as soon as possible.
Mr Pemberton had been working with his GP and mental health services.
But in the end it was not enough to save him, after the anguish of seeing friends die and the horrific memories of war became too much.
“My son came back from war and he was mortally injured. We couldn’t have done any more,” his father said. “But he’s a peace now.”
The family thanked Sunderland Coroner’s Office for its help in dealing with Mr Pemberton’s death.
At a hearing on Thursday, Coroner Derek Winter recorded a conclusion that Mr Pemberton hanged himself.
A toxicology report showed he had not been drinking or taken any illegal drugs before his death.