Friends Grapple with Suicide of Woman, 30, Who May Have Suffered from PTSD
"I am in total awe of not only what she was able to accomplish during her short life, but the impact and awareness she will raise about PTSD," Brunette's friend Jessica Aguiar says
It seemed like Jamie Brunette had it all: beauty, 11 successful years in the Air Force, a tight-knit family, close friends and a fitness center that she was about to launch.
Now, those closest to her are left stunned and heartbroken after the 30-year-old was found dead in the back of her car Feb. 9 after police say she killed herself with a Smith & Wesson .380 handgun that she had purchased about six months earlier, according to The Tampa Tribune.
Her sister, Jackie Leverich, 39, tells PEOPLE that the real story is that signs of suicide and PTSD are not always obvious – and that there is help available for our returning veterans.
“Jamie had a passion for life and a contagious smile,” she says. “She was always upbeat and positive and had a way of making your bad day good with a cheery word or a good laugh.”
But she still thinks about what her sister must have been feeling inside.
“I wish we would have known she was hurting so badly, and maybe we could have done something to help her,” she says.
Brunette, who lived in Tampa, Florida, held positions within the Air Force in Florida and at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. In August 2012, she was deployed to Afghanistan.
“Overall, being oversees was a great experience for her,” her good friend Teresa Davis, 25, tells PEOPLE. “But I think some questionable things happened over there.”
Brunette, Davis says, was dealing with PTSD.
“You never ever would have known though,” she said. “That girl was as badass as she looked. She was so beautiful and smart. It seemed like she had it all.”
She had recently purchased an Orangetheory Fitness franchise that was “her life,” Davis says. At her funeral, people wore orange in her memory.
Davis had spent most of the weekend with Brunette before she took her life the following Monday.
She wasn’t concerned at all during their dinners and the long time they spent out on the water.
“She was her usual happy self,” she says. “The hard part for all of us is wondering what could have happened.”
Then, on Monday morning, Brunette’s roommate, who always woke up very early, saw that her bed wasn’t made, which was usual, Davis says. She also had left her purse behind.
“She thought that maybe Jamie had gone for an early morning run,” she says. “But later on we found out that that is of course not what happened.”
Brunette’s other great friend, Jessica Aguiar, doesn’t think she will ever be able to have a friendship like theirs.
“I looked up to her so much,” says Aguiar, 31. “Our relationship was based off of conversations. We once talked on the phone for four hours and 20 minutes.”
Although they could spend all day talking and never run out of the things to say, Aguiar says she didn’t know how much Brunette must have been struggling.
“She mentioned a few times in passing that she had a slight case of PTSD, but she was so strong-willed that I think it upset her to rehash anything negative,” she says. “I am just absolutely shocked. She had her whole life ahead of her.”
Leverich, Brunette’s sister, provided PEOPLE with an essay that she wrote about why she wanted to become an officer.
“Hard work, a strong focus and a great attitude have proven to be key components to accomplishing my goals and continued success,” Brunette wrote. “I try to stay busy with positive ambitions in my life. I do not believe that there is a limit on the knowledge in this world and I hope that I am never full satisfied with myself.”