The Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office on Monday confirmed what many suspected: Dante M. Austin, the city’s first openly gay deputy sheriff, whose body was found Friday morning, died by suicide.
Also on Monday, funeral arrangements for Austin were announced.
Austin, 27, who was scheduled to be promoted to sergeant on July 1 and who was pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at West Chester University, was found at his Center City desk with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had become the office’s first LGBTQ community liaison two years ago.
Sheriff Jewell Williams, in announcing Austin’s death Friday, had said confirmation of the manner of death would come from the Medical Examiner’s Office. Jim Garrow, spokesperson for that office, said Monday he could not provide further information.
One of Austin’s three sisters on Monday said that he had spoken with her recently about wanting to see a therapist because he was under stress.
“He had an amazing life. I think it just shows that depression and mental health will affect anybody,” said Amber Kee, 30. “It wasn’t as if something happened to him to make him take his life. It was depression.”
Kee said her brother attended Central High School before transferring to George Washington High School, where he excelled at track and reading, graduating in 2009. He enlisted in the Army and served six years. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Rosemont College, he joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2013.
He volunteered with many organizations. “His passion, dedication, and leadership were his best traits,” Kee said. “Everything that you could think that a good person would do, he was involved in.”
Terrell Green, a close friend of Austin’s, said that a recent broken engagement and the May death of his 9-month-old goddaughter had weighed heavily on Austin, but that he was planning for the future.
“He told me he had just finished another great semester in grad school, and in our last conversation he expressed to me that he really wants to run for sheriff in the next election,” Green said. “I saw him the night before. He called me at 12:11 a.m. that Friday morning. I missed the call, unfortunately.”
The Sheriff’s Office issued a statement Monday saying Williams had been “in regular contact” with Austin’s family since his death “to offer any assistance and comfort that our office can provide as they mourn this immeasurable loss.”
In addition to his sister, he is survived by his mother, Donna Kee; his father, Dante E. Austin; two sisters; two brothers; and nieces and nephews.
A funeral will be at noon Saturday at the Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany, 333 S. 13th St., where friends may call from 9 to 11 a.m. Burial with military honors will be in Forest Hills Cemetery. The Sheriff’s Office will escort the funeral vehicles and will have an honor guard at the funeral. The family requested that donations be made to an LGBTQ organization of the donor’s choice.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.