PRESTON — In the eyes of his friends, Raul Antonio Menjivar Saabedra was looking for a way out of his misery when he allegedly threatened police and was shot in the parking lot of Preston’s Stokes Market on Nov. 19.
Local men Dal Sellers and Eric Allred say Menjivar Saabedra was their friend. They had both visited him at the Logan Regional Behavioral Clinic during the week before his last day alive.
What upsets them is that none of them knew he had been released. Maybe they could have done something, they said.
Sellers, a friend and former ecclesiastical leader of Menjivar Saabedra’s, said he was with Menjivar Saabedra when he checked himself into the clinic because he was having suicidal thoughts.
“He was afraid of something, said there were people out to kill him or that if they caught him, they’d torture him,” Sellers said.
Menjivar Saabedra had been living in Grace for most of the last year, but had lived in Franklin County for about a decade before that, working, among other places, at Verlyn Reay’s dairy in Banida. He had immigrated from El Salvador “to better his life,” said Allred, who came to know Menjivar Saabedra when he decided to learn English. Allred and his wife, Sandy, had been called by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to teach English.
Over the next two years, a friendship blossomed, and Allred took Menjivar Saabedra shopping because he didn’t have his own vehicle. In that time, Allred learned that Menjivar Saabedra had left his native country to escape poverty and violence. Whether that violence was related to El Salvador’s many years of civil strife or whether is was related to his home life isn’t known, but Sellers said Menjivar Saabedra had dealt with “a lot of abuse as a child.”
He was in the country legally and searching for the promise America has held for generations: opportunity. About two years ago, he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which gave him a social network.
But something went wrong in that pursuit of the American dream, and Allred wishes he could’ve done more to help. “I hold myself to blame as much as anyone,” he said.
Allred knew Menjivar Saabedra wanted the freedom of owning his own vehicle, having a home and a family. He knew Menjivar Saabedra wanted to work someplace besides a dairy. The work irritated his skin.
“He was always embarrassed about his clothing and he thought he smelled like the dairy,” Allred said.
But when Menjivar Saabedra told Allred about an old car he’d found, Allred avoided getting involved because he thought “an old car that needed maintenance wasn’t a good idea,” Allred has stated.
Perhaps not being able to attain his dreams, Menjivar Saabedra became discouraged, Allred said. Hoping to cheer his friend, Allred and Jim Allen, another friend, visited Menjivar Saabedra at the clinic two days before his death.
It was a beautifully furnished, clean place, said Allred, but he wonders why no one was advised that Menjivar Saabedra had been released from the clinic.
Sellers does, too. He was the contact listed at the clinic when Menjivar Saabedra was admitted. He, too, visited Raul while he was at the clinic. “We visited him four of the six days he was there,” Sellers said.
So it was surprising to Sellers to get a call on Tuesday afternoon from an agitated Menjivar Saabedra who was in Logan, waiting for the Preston-bound bus. Sellers made arrangements to pick him up at Wendy’s in Preston and take him home to Grace.
When Sellers got to Wendy’s, his friend wasn’t there. Sellers checked a couple other fast-food establishments, wondering if they had miscommunicated. Menjivar Saabedra was not to be found.
As Sellers drove past Stokes and saw the police cars, he felt he needed to stop. When he discovered that Menjivar Saabedra had entered the store and purchased a large butcher knife and was carrying it around in his shirt, he understood why the store personnel had called the police. He tried to help calm his agitated friend.
“I felt like we were good friends. He told me that night, ‘I love you like a brother, but I know you have to kill me.’ … There’s no way to say what went on in his head that night. I think he wanted the police to kill him … it looked like a way out,” said Sellers. “I’m sure he bought (the knife) in self-defense.”
“He consented to get into the car with me, then he refused and became more agitated,” Sellers said.
It was eventually decided that it might be better if Sellers left. After he did, the situation escalated to the point that the shots were fired.
Sellers has spoken with Menjivar Saabedra’s family in El Salvador. “They loved him, but they were not surprised” that he had a mental break.
Menjivar Saabedra’s death bothers his friends, and they are looking for answers, wondering what could have been done to help.
“Its not right what happened,” Allred said. “Someone needs to be responsible.”
Sellers wonders if the situation could have been managed if Menjivar Saabedra had taken the medication he was prescribed. But by the time he’d found his friend, “the mental illness seemed out of reach … We definitely lost the battle that night,” he said.