After war, teacher's life unraveled
Post-traumatic stress and legal problems spurred suicide, those close to him say
December 27, 2008
Those who served with Brian Norman agree that he was an exceptional soldier - capable, meticulous and brave. He had two combat tours, one in
He was also known as a singular teacher, one who demanded a great deal from students but also inspired and encouraged them. He helped with college applications, went to school football games, and even took students drag racing.
But this fall, his life unraveled.
On Nov. 12, he was arrested for allegedly slapping the buttocks of a 16-year-old girl, a junior in one of his classes at
On Dec. 9, a
Ten days later,
Friends and family say
They also say he was suffering from a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Since returning from
"He was very different. He wasn't his normal, hyper, crazy, runaround self," said his friend Jeremy Bender. "He seemed very down from what he normally was."
Norman first came to Harford County in 2001 from the Pittsburgh area, where he had grown up. He taught first at
He loved cars, and he had a 1970 Chevrolet Vega that he had modified for drag racing. At Wright, he started a car club, which eventually included 12 members. Several times, he took a group of students to the
"The kids loved him," said Joe Fleischman, an engineer who lives in Bel Air. "He was young enough that they could relate to him."
Bender, 27, who lives in Abingdon, knew
In the military, Norman, an Army National Guard staff sergeant, made a similar impression. In
The strain of combat eventually took its toll. Bender says
When Bender picked him up after a week, he seemed better. "For the first time in a long time, he seemed like his old self, like he was before
But a few days later, on Nov. 12, he was arrested for the alleged slap and told not to come to work anymore.
"It shot him right back down," Bender said.
Looking for evidence, sheriff's deputies took
"He couldn't see losing his teaching job," said Lee Norman, his father, who lives near
After Brian Norman's first suicide attempt, deputies also confiscated his weapons. But according to Bender, sometime over the next month, Brian Norman took a handgun from the home of friends without telling them; on Dec. 19, this was the gun he used.
Brian Norman's lawyer, Andy Battista, says his client had a strong case. "From what I can see, we would have had a very successful fight," he said. Battista said the two witnesses to the alleged slap did not back up the victim's story.
The prosecutor handling the case believes
Norman's funeral will be Monday in Irwin,
Since last weekend, more than 100 friends, fellow soldiers, colleagues, parents and students have written e-mails and posted messages online, recalling
But many say that whatever might have happened between Norman and the alleged victim, his achievements shouldn't be neglected.
"It seems a shame," Fleischman said, "that the only time he got in the paper was for what he did in the last five weeks."
Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun
Visit baltimoresun.com at http://www.baltimoresun.com
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs