Businessman Ronald “Bo” Ward was a walking a tight financial rope when he sought a commercial re-zoning of his Madison Street property, a move that would have increased the value of that property and would have leveraged additional financing to offset the expense of the new business building he occupied on Fort Campbell Boulevard.
Ward was a well-liked businessman whose business, Bo’s Barber Shop near Gate 1, had strong patronage from the military at Fort Campbell. He was a strong supporter of the soldiers based at Fort Campbell.
With the 5-7 denial of a second reading on that request Thursday night and a City Council moratorium on zone changes in that area, Ward apparently felt he would lose everything he worked for and chose to take his own life in front of his wife, the city leaders who denied his request, and a room full of residents attending that meeting.
As the reality of that denial set in, Ward stood up, walked toward the Council, was told by Mayor Johnny Piper, who serves as the President of the City Council, that he could not speak. Ward acknowledged that he could not address the Council, but told Piper the ruling “put him under” and that he [Bo] was “out of here.” He placed the barrel of a small silver handgun in mouth and pulled the trigger, falling at the feet of the audience as his wife, screaming, threw herself over him.
The public was quickly ushered out of the ensuing chaos in City Council Chambers with screams, sobs and some somber silence even as police and fire/rescue personnel attending the meeting reacted to the tragedy.
While many knew Ward would be disappointed by the ruling, no one expected his violent, self-directed response. Even as the suicide unfolded, there was a grim awareness that the gun could just as easily have been turned on city officials or members of the public attending that session. Instead, though, apparently believing he had no way out of his financial difficulties and no alternatives, he took his life.
Mayor Johnny Piper today said that in the aftermath of this tragedy City Council Chamber would not used again, and alternate meeting places would be utilized until a new site for City Council meetings would be found. While a posted sign tells visitors that “firearms are prohibited,” the Chamber, unlike the Courthouse, is not a secure facility, does not require security checks and does not employ metal detectors or other screening processes.
Bold yellow tape now designates the City Council Chamber as a crime scene and the Clarksville Police Major Crimes Unit is investigating. Since Council meetings are taped for public access broadcast, the incident was recorded but that tape will not be aired publicly.
Police Department chaplains are available at the E-911 Center today from 10 a.m. on to counsel anyone who was at the meeting or has been affected by this tragedy. Witnessing incidents such as this can trigger deep and long-lasting responses. Even after the initial shock and horror ebb, the underlying trauma remains, and for some people may resurface in the form of stress, depression or post-traumatic stress, sometimes months after the fact. Counseling, and access to mental health professionals or spiritual counselors can be vital in coping with the trauma if witnessing tragedy and the city is helping to provide some of that care via the E-911 service.