Deschutes County law enforcement officials confirmed Wednesday the jailhouse death of suspected murderer Bryan Penner was a suicide.
Penner was suspected in the death of his ex-girlfriend, Sara Diana Gomez, whose body was found in May east of Bend. She had been missing since February.
The Deschutes County Major Crimes Team on Wednesday released its formal findings into the death of Penner, 31, who died March 11 at St. Charles Bend. His body had been discovered by a fellow inmate the evening earlier in a communal shower at the Deschutes County jail.
He had wrapped a towel around his neck and tied it to a towel rack about 3 to 4 feet off the ground and slumped to the ground, according to information released Wednesday by Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel.
Jail staffers ran in with a “cut-down tool” used by corrections employees in suicide attempts. Life-saving measures by deputies, paramedics and hospital staff helped keep Penner alive one more day, Hummel said.
Gomez, 24, was reported missing Feb. 20. Penner, whom she dated for five years, was quickly identified as a suspect.
He was taken into custody for allegedly violating a restraining order she had taken out against him shortly after they’d broken up.
Police discovered blood and bloody ropes while searching Penner’s apartment. They were racing to build a case against him at the time of his death.
In a suicide note left on his bunk and released Wednesday by Hummel, Penner denied involvement in his ex-girlfriend’s disappearance and claimed the two had gotten back together shortly before she went missing.
He wrote of receiving death threats and being scared of what would happen if he was released from jail.
He complained to staff at Deschutes County jail about threats from other inmates and was moved to a unit for inmates with fewer behavioral problems, a sheriff’s spokesman said at the time. He was housed there with 14 other inmates.
“I can’t take this anymore,” Penner wrote in his suicide note. “The stress of being locked up in this situation where the love of my life is missing and everyone is blaming me for knowing why. Sara, I hope you’re happy ’cause you’ve crushed me once again. I hope you’re OK.”
Penner wrote goodbye to various friends and relatives. He named friends he claims betrayed him, and made arrangements to give away his car. “Careful with those speakers LOL,” he said.
The note also includes a list of songs Penner wanted played at his funeral, including “I’m So Proud of You,” by Drake featuring Nicki Minaj, “I’m So Paid,” by Akon featuring Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy, and “Tha Crossroads,” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
“Remember the good times we had. All the Beers, Bowls, good jokes and sports,” he wrote to one friend.
With Penner dead, the search for Gomez sputtered. Volunteers and professionals combed a largely unoccupied 80-square-mile region east of Bend, where cellphone data placed Penner around the time Gomez went missing.
Her body was discovered by a hiker May 25 wrapped in a comforter and tarp under a tree near Horse Ridge.
The state medical examiner identified the body as Gomez but has yet to issue formal findings on her cause of death.
But the investigation into Penner’s death is now closed, according to Hummel, who released a statement Wednesday accusing Penner of attempting to “re-write the final chapter” of Gomez’s life.
“I’ve previously expressed my contempt for Mr. Penner killing Sara,” Hummel said. “My contempt deepens because in his suicide note he had the gall to claim Sara got back together with him before he killed her. In Sara’s final months of life, she fled an abusive relationship, filed for a restraining order and began a new relationship. Penner could not accept that Sara had moved on with her life and this is why he brutally murdered her.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, email@example.com