The U.S. Army veteran who drowned this week in the Mississippi River in St. Cloud had been discharged from a hospital emergency room just before he walked into the river, authorities said Wednesday.
Divers recovered the body of Shannon David Shaw, 49, Tuesday evening near the spot where he was last seen trying to swim across the river near the 700 block of 5th Avenue N.
Investigators are still unsure why Shaw went into the water, but his wife, Kristi, said he had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and had been unable to get help.
“I’m horrified with the situation,” she said. “I’m distraught. He was trying to get help, and no one would help him. My heart is broken.”
Police officers encountered Shaw Monday morning at a convenience store on the south end of St. Cloud. A customer filling up with gas reported that Shaw had climbed into his pontoon boat to sleep. Shaw, who had only a bicycle and personal belongings with him at the time, told Stearns County deputies he was homeless and had no place to go.
He asked to be taken to the St. Cloud VA Health Care System hospital, said Chief Deputy Jon Lentz.
VA hospital officials told Shaw he’d have to be medically cleared before they could take him. Deputies then took him to St. Cloud Hospital.
A hospital spokeswoman said Shaw was admitted to the emergency room Monday morning and given a thorough evaluation before he was discharged about 4 p.m.
About 40 minutes later, witnesses saw him go into the river, fully dressed, and start swimming to the east side. When he was about halfway across, he disappeared, and the witnesses called 911, Lentz said.
“We are saddened by this unfortunate loss of life,” said hospital spokeswoman Wendy Jerde. “We recognize this is an ongoing investigation and we are working with authorities to understand what led to this tragic outcome.”
Citing patient privacy laws, Jerde said she could not disclose what treatment Shaw received.
A ‘tenderhearted man’
Kristi Shaw said her husband was the kind of guy who always stopped to help others. But this week, when he needed help, nobody came to his aid.
“They turned him away,” she said.
Shannon Shaw’s PTSD stemmed from his time in the Army in the military police in Germany in the 1990s, she said. For the past decade, he had tried unsuccessfully to get help from the VA hospital, she said.
“They didn’t have room for him,” she said. “They need to change something about the system. I don’t want any vet, or anybody who needs help, to be turned away. I don’t want someone else to be lost this way.”
VA officials did not reply to requests for interviews.
Kristi and Shannon Shaw met in Omaha, Neb., and were married in 2001. Shannon had been doing electrical work and had picked up other jobs in recent years. He was a stepfather to Kristi’s two children and loved being outdoors. He especially loved fishing, she said.
“He was an outgoing, tenderhearted man who would help anybody,” she said. “He was the love of my life.”
Authorities continue to investigate the case, Lentz said.
“For whatever reason, he went into the river,” Lentz said. “These situations are always tough to deal with, and when there are unanswered questions, it is even worse. It’s sad.”