Family shares memories of altar boy who committed suicide 28 years ago

An open box of shells lay on the bed.

A shotgun was on the floor, Brian Teeman’s lifeless body next to it.

His mother, just home from grocery shopping, saw her 14-year-old son through a doorway. Hysterical, she pushed Brian’s younger sister into a corner and ordered her not to move.

Then she rushed into the master bedroom, standing over Brian, still dressed in the dark blue pants, blue button-down shirt and white Nike tennis shoes he’d worn to his Catholic high school.

She spotted a green sticky note on the edge of the white bedspread. She picked it up, hands trembling, and recognized Brian’s handwriting.

All it said was, “I didn’t want to get yelled at. Love, Brian.”

It made no sense.

Rosemary Teeman knew nothing of Brian’s ordeal — that two years earlier, in 1981, Brian and three other altar boys had allegedly been cornered in a church room and molested on several occasions by a priest who warned them not to tell.

Dazed, she shoved the note into the pocket of her trench coat. Then she called her husband, who was working a 12-hour shift at the Hallmark Cards warehouse in Liberty, and the Independence police. She and daughter Jackie, 13, stumbled to their neighbor’s to wait.

As soon as Don got Rosemary’s message, the Vietnam vet sped straight to the emergency room at an Independence hospital, assuming that’s where Brian would be. But they knew nothing about any gunshot victim.

When Don arrived at his house, the police were there, along with their neighbor’s son, who kept him from the door.

“Don, you can’t go in the house.”

“What do you mean I can’t go in the house?”

“The police don’t want you in there.”

After the police left, some friends came and cleaned things up as best they could. The Teemans, numb and heartbroken, returned to the house that night.

Rosemary kept Brian’s note to herself.

“I clutched it in my trench coat all evening,” she said. “I kept it and kept it and was so puzzled, thinking what does this mean? I didn’t know what to do with it. And I eventually threw it in the fireplace.”

The police report said Brian died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Although the Teemans knew Brian had taken his life, they couldn’t accept it. They told everyone the shooting was accidental. And when the medical examiner wrote “suicide” on Brian’s death certificate, an irate Don pressured her to change it to “undetermined.”

“I called and raised hell about it,” Don said. “I said, ‘You have no proof.’ ”

The couple suffered in silence, not even telling Jackie the truth.

“My parents and Rosemary’s parents, they’re all strict Catholics,” Don said. “It would have put a hardship on everybody. I was protecting my son. I didn’t want it out that he’d killed himself.”

Don blamed himself, not only for putting the gun in the bedroom but wondering if maybe he’d pushed Brian too hard to go out for high school sports. Rosemary blamed Don, too, especially for buying that gun.

“The entire blame was on his shoulders,” Rosemary said. “It was very rough.”

Police interviewed Brian’s friends and assistant principal, asking if he’d been acting strange or depressed.

One of the four altar boys, Chuck Caffrey, said he’d talked to Brian after school at Archbishop O’Hara that day. He told police that Brian had mentioned that he didn’t think he had many friends but added that Brian didn’t appear to be too upset about it.

Another of the altar boys told police that Brian had spent the night at his house a few days earlier and seemed fine.

The last altar boy, Jon David Couzens, then an eighth-grader, was horrified to learn of Brian’s death.

“When I got the phone call about Brian saying it was an accident, in my heart I knew it wasn’t,” he said. “I knew the turmoil he was going through, and knowing it just did me in.”

Still, he remained silent, remembering the priest’s threat if they ever told anyone.

“It just kept playing in my head that you’re gonna go to hell and your parents are going to disown you.”

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