On July 25, 2011, our son, Alexander Heitman, a school finance officer working in an East Tennessee town nicknamed the Secret City was found dead of a shotgun wound to the head 80 miles away from his intended destination in a place that is often referred to as Little Chicago.
Despite the ruling on his death certificate, our family has no reason to believe that he committed suicide. Alex was an ambitious 28 year old who was working on his PhD and was a month away from becoming a first-time father. Those factors aside, we have additional concerns that compound our suspicions about what truly happened to our son. Some of those include the following:
1. Alex was scheduled to leave for a vacation the morning of his death, but his supervisor demanded that he come into the office instead. Alex did not know why. Phone records indicate that he arrived at his place of work but his supervisor reported to police (read here and here) that Alex never came in. Instead, his car and body were found in a very remote place that he’d never been before.
2. Though 911 logs indicate that authorities were on scene for up to five hours, there is no indication that any type of investigation was conducted. Brain matter and a shotgun shell were left at the scene and no spent shell casing was recovered. No ballistics or fingerprints were taken; no substantive crime scene photos were taken; and neither a coroner’s report nor a police report were filed.
3. Neither of his parents nor his wife identified his body, which was subsequently cremated. We were prevented by the funeral home staff from viewing his face. Neither Cocke County Baptist Hospital nor U.T. Medical Center has produced records stating who identified Alex’s body.
4. As discussed here, nearly every official record affiliated with our son’s death contains errors, some of great significance. We have long suspected that much of the original errors were the fault of the coroner. Now that this news has come out of his recent termination over despicable behaviors in his handling of deceased bodies and his past convictions of arson and attempted murder, we believe that these errors were intentional rather than a case of simple negligence.
5. The only official document that states Alex’s cause of death as suicide is his final death certificate. Conversations with hospital personnel and some of the documents give us reason to question whether or not the Cocke County Medical Examiner David McConnell ever actually examined Alex’s body. His signature is lacking on the files and appears to have been forged by Mr. Jarnigan on the actual Order for Autopsy. As best as we can tell, this means that the only real basis for a ruling of suicide originated with a man who had NO medical training and who also had a history of criminal behavior. The autopsy (conducted by a different official than the ME who signed the death certificate) does not attribute the cause of death listed (shotgun wound of head) to suicide or homicide.
6. When he died, Alex was in the middle of cooperating with the prosecution of multiple individuals who had stolen thousands of dollars from the Oak Ridge School System. The case stemmed from his initial report to police and involved a check fraud ring led by and consisting of multiple methamphetamine offenders. Because he was issued multiple subpoenas out of the Anderson County Court System, we suspect that he may have been testifying in front of his employer’s highest ranking official (the Board of Education Chairman) who also happens to be the Grand Jury Foreman. A subsequent federal investigation was to follow since at least one individual’s plea involved agreements to “cooperate with federal authorities in a counterfeiting investigation as a condition of probation.” Read here and here.
7. If this were truly a case of suicide, then we fail to understand why so many officials from multiple jurisdictions have been so uncooperative for so long. As we demonstrated to the FBI, the Oak Ridge Police Chief, the Anderson County District Attorney, the Oak Ridge School Administration and Cocke County officials have all either lied to us, misled us or flat out ignored our pleas for information that we should have every right to.
8. In 2009, Alex was specifically hired to address problems within the school finance department. He was working on the 2011 audit when he died. We were told by DA Clark that Alex had refused to sign off the audit. We also have questions about the 2010 audit since it contains Alex’s signature and was edited over three months AFTER he died for an amount of nearly one million dollars. Notably, too, is that it is the only audit in at least a decade containing an employee signature other than Tom Bailey or Karen Gagliano (Alex’s supervisors).
9. Alex had also been revising policies and giving training to staff to combat fraud, waste and abuse within the system based on negative 2010 audit findings. This presentation developed and given by Alex just a month before his death elaborates on these findings and contains many notes of suspicious activities indicating a number of serious oversights and a severe lack of checks and balances in the system.
10. Nearly three years after Alex died, yet another audit of questionable findings surfaced. Ironically, Alex’s employer has insinuated to the press that Alex may have been guilty of some of the very same issues that he worked so diligently to combat. To date, the Oak Ridge School System has refused to provide us with the documents that substantiate their insinuations. As we discussed in our response here, we are continuing our pursuit of the records related to the audit and have recently retained an attorney to assist us with this and other matters.
In his work and cooperation with authorities, we fear that Alex may have trusted the wrong person or identified someone that did not want to be identified. Because of the extreme difficulties we've had with local authorities, we approached the FBI with this letter, which contains additional details to the points addressed above. To date, we've received no response. Regardless, we remain undeterred in our commitment to determine what happened to our beloved Alex. We will also continue our appeal for assistance from the general public. You can help. Read how here.