Two suicides at jail, two different stories

Nov 2, 2021

Shannon Jennings with Ryder Gene and Monroe.

In this second report, WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi speaks with the fiance of Shannon Jennings, who reportedly died by suicide at the Rockingham-Harrisonburg Regional Jail, and reports what we know about the second man to die in the jail this year.

While looking into Jennings' death, WMRA also discovered that another man had died by suicide at the jail on September 12th. Forty-year-old Charles Winston Turner Jr., originally from Charlottesville, had been arrested on September 8th for allegedly forging a check and a misdemeanor drug possession charge. He was already on probation stemming from a 2016 conviction for arson, allegedly having set fire to drapes in an apartment building.

According to court records, Turner was incarcerated for about two years for the arson. When he was released, he went to live at the Franklin Grove Men's Community Residential Program in Richmond, and received mental health services from Tucker Psychiatric Pavilion. He was discharged from the transitional house after two months for getting into an altercation with other residents.

In court documents from January 2018, he was listed as staying at the Open Doors shelter, but by earlier this year he appears to have gotten an apartment. At different times, Turner was noted as working for QSI Sanitation and Able Solutions in Harrisonburg. He also attended the Ray of Hope Church for a while before the pandemic.

His mental state was regularly brought up in court hearings, as he was ordered to be psychologically evaluated multiple times before standing trial on various charges and probation violations. In a court transcript from 2018, Judge Bruce D. Albertson is recorded as saying, [quote] "... he has an extensive criminal history, but he also has an extensive mental health history including very serious mental health issues."

WMRA made contact with one of his cousins, who said the family did not wish to speak to the media at this time.

Meanwhile, Chelsea Mullins, who lost her fiance Shannon Jennings to suicide in July, is seeking answers not just for herself, but for her children, too. She and Jennings have a one-year-old boy named Ryder Gene, and Jennings treated her four-year-old daughter, Monroe, like his own child.

MULLINS:  Ryder -- I mean, he knows. Like if you show him a picture of Shannon, he knows who he is. He'll try to give it a kiss and try to hug it. Monroe, we call her Roe, she's had it the hardest. She talks about him nonstop. She'll be like, you know, ‘why did my Daddy have to go to heaven? Can I talk to my Daddy?’ She's struggling … and it's hard, too, because she's four and that's the only father she's ever known. And it's like, how do you help your daughter if you don't even know? Or how do you answer her questions if I don't even know. And I know there's going to come a day when they're older; they're both going to ask me what happened … and when they do ask me questions, I want to be able to tell them the truth.

Besides transparency and answers, Mullins also wants Jennings to be remembered for more than just how he died.

MULLINS: He was a great guy. He would give anybody the shirt off his back … He was a great father and a great friend. And he loved fishing … and he took care of his Dad while his Dad had cancer.

One of the many things she misses about him is their family routine at the end of the day.

MULLINS: Every evening we would go put her in her little stroller and go on a walk or go to the park. …  I mean, we had planned on getting married. [long pause] And raising Monroe and Ryder together, and that's why all of this was such a shock. Because he was supposed to get out. We had thought he was going to get released that day.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please tell a friend or loved one, and contact available resources, such as your local Community Services Board, hospital, or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, at 1-800-273-8255.