ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She wants you to know that he wasn’t like that.
That he wasn’t cruel or crazy or criminal.
That the man she knew was a good man, a good father, a good husband. Funny. Smart. Kind.
That even the way he chose to kill himself showed that he remained methodical and mindful of the safety of others.
That he was loved, but, yes, that love was not enough to save him.
Crystal Shewmake had been distressed by the way her husband, Gregory Shewmake, was portrayed in news accounts after he killed himself Feb. 4 by detonating an explosive behind a trash bin near Central and Coors NW.
“They made him sound like a criminal on the streets,” she said. “I was very angry reading that.”
She wasn’t ready to talk about that when my Journal colleague tried to interview her shortly after his death. It was too soon, the shock too new.
It still is.
“I’m still going through the process,” she said. “It still doesn’t feel real.”
But it’s important, she said, for people not to see him the way she suspects they do. So she talks.
She met him 8½ years ago when he was a tall, blue-eyed Air Force staff sergeant stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base and she was a single mother of a toddler.
He was funny, charming. He asked her to dance. He called her several times for a date. Several times she declined, certain that when she told him she had a child he’d run off.
But he already knew. He had seen the little girl’s photo on Crystal’s phone. And he hadn’t run off.
Six months after she finally agreed to go out, they were married.
That was May 2011. By then, Greg had served in the Air Force for five years, including two deployments to the Middle East. After a sixth and final year in 2012, he left the military and moved his new family to Chicago near his hometown of Kenosha, Wis.
“We were going to start our lives out there,” Crystal said. “He wanted to pursue engineering or mechanics. He could build anything. He was all-around smart. He was my Google.”
Custody issues involving Crystal’s daughter forced her to return to Albuquerque without Greg. For three years they lived apart, visiting each other when they could.
Being without her and without the structure the Air Force had provided took a toll on Greg. It unmoored him, tossed him back into the battle with depression and anxiety and the substance abuse he had fought since high school.
Again and again, he was able to beat back the demons of heroin. He went into rehab, fought his way back in time to be with Crystal in Albuquerque for the birth of their son.
Back in Albuquerque, he sought help through the Veterans Health Administration, while Crystal started attending Nar-Anon, a 12-step group for friends and family members dealing with a loved one’s addiction.
“I would be mixed with anger, but I didn’t lash out at him,” she said. “I was willing to go through life with him, to help him.”
For much of their marriage, that life was good, she said. He began a successful mechanic business and later opened a locksmith business instead.
And though court records indicate Greg was arrested a couple of times in 2016 and 2017 on drug possession and property crime charges, Crystal insisted that at least one of those charges was bogus and based partly on a detective misrepresenting something she had said.
Even at his worst, he was still someone she could depend on, she said.
“He did so much for me and the kids,” she said. “He took care of us.”
Their last year together was a good one, she said. They were closer than they had ever been – happier than they had ever been, she said. Perhaps that was the problem.
On the morning of Feb. 4, he told Crystal he wasn’t feeling well, so she took the family car to drop the kids at school and go to work.
Hours later, he walked six minutes from their home to a trash bin surrounded on three sides by walls and located a safe distance away from the back end of a Fallas Paredes Discount Store at Coors and Central NW.
It was a safe place, she said, to blow himself up.
“He knew what he was doing,” she said.
The explosion shook businesses and homes up to two miles away, blackened and dented the trash bin and tore apart the walls that surrounded it.
It almost surely killed Greg instantly. He was 32.
He left behind two letters – one for Crystal, the other for whoever would find what remained of him.
The latter was to make clear that he had intended to take his life, she said.
The letter to her, she said, thanked her for giving him a wonderful life – so wonderful that he could not bear for it to be diminished again by his addiction. He couldn’t put her through that again. She was better off without him. The kids were young enough to get over him.
He was wrong about all of that, she said.
“I still believe he would have overcome his addiction in time,” she said. “I still believe he was a good man and that we needed him.”
She hopes that you might believe that now, too.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.