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Family: Oil disaster devastated captain who committed suicide

By Rich Phillips, CNN
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Gulf fisherman's death a suicide
  • Authorities: 55-year-old boat captain committed suicide
  • Allen Kruse had been helping with BP cleanup for past two weeks
  • Captain did not leave note, but relatives say oil disaster devastated him

Orange Beach, Alabama (CNN) -- On Thursday evening, a boat returned to its dock without its captain -- his vibrant personality and smile gone. On the dock was a wreath memorializing the Gulf fisherman known as "Rookie."

His family and friends say "Rookie," whose real name was Allen Kruse, was stressed beyond belief by the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf. On Thursday, a coroner ruled his sudden, tragic death a suicide.

Kruse, 55, a charter boat captain who had been hired by BP to help clean Gulf waterways and render them safe, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound Wednesday on board one of his own vessels.

"Most definitely a suicide," said Rod Steade Sr., deputy coroner for Baldwin County, Alabama. "No question about it."

Kruse shot himself with his own gun, kept on board his boat, which was also named "Rookie." He sent two of his deckhands on an errand before killing himself. He did not leave a note, and none of his friends suspected he would do something so extreme.

Video: 'Good friend, good man' recalled

"He must have had his demons," said Captain Bryan Watts.

For 14 days, Kruse had been using his boats to haul protective boom off of Alabama's shores, instead of captaining them on the hunt for snapper and amberjack. A charter boat fishing captain for 26 years, he -- like countless other Gulf fishermen -- found his passion and his career threatened by the undersea oil gusher.

"The day that oil entered the Gulf, my phone quit ringing," he said last month in a television interview.

Kruse told his family that he believed the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had effectively killed his livelihood as well as the ocean.

"He just thought it was over," said brother Marc Kruse. "He said, 'the Gulf's dead.' ... There was no hope that the fishing was ever going to come back ... not in his lifetime."

Marc Kruse and another brother, Frank Kruse, told CNN they believe Allen Kruse would still be alive today if he had believed he was making an impact against the oil that was threatening the waters he loved.

"If he thought they were doing something that was working, that was effective, they were making a difference, yes, but every day there was a different meeting with a different plan," said Frank Kruse, referring to BP's program to enlist out-of-work fishermen.

Allen Kruse didn't have much choice but to join the program, his brother said -- he used to make between $5,000 and $6,000 a day chartering his two boats, income that had ceased.

So, he signed his boats up for the BP program, known as "Vessels of Opportunity." He worked for two weeks straight, his family says, but hadn't been paid.

Allen Kruse called the program "madness," they said, and told relatives it was a sham.

His brothers said he told them that cleanup boats were put in the water close to shore, so people would think they were making a difference.

"It's just a dog and pony show," said Marc Kruse. "Send them out. Ride around. Let everybody see them. Bring them back in."

A BP spokesman did not return CNN's calls for comment. The company has repeatedly said it's doing everything it can to fund and facilitate cleanup efforts, and cap the ruptured deepwater well. Government estimates say up to 60,000 barrels oil could be gushing daily.

Anxieties and frustrations are increasing among Gulf residents over the ongoing oil disaster, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The department says it's concerned about an increase in depression and the potential for more suicides.

"We're all going through a lot of stress," said Tom Ard, president of the Orange Beach Fishing Association and a close friend of Allen Kruse.

"Just stress, starting a new job with BP. It's something we've never done before, being in the oil business, so we've got a lot on our plate. We've all been stressed out," he said.

And others might buckle under the strain: "We worry about that every day," said Captain Ben Fairey, one of Allen Kruse's friends.

"There's a lot of people on the edge. We feel hopeless. We feel helpless. We don't feel like there's an advocate out there," said Tony Kennon, mayor of Orange Beach, a close-knit fishing community.

"We're bringing in and asking all the preachers and all the churches to step up and help. We have a weekly meeting at lunch on Wednesdays where we invite the entire community in for support. BP is there to ask questions. Folks vent," he said.

"But the big thing is we have to love each other. We've got to be there for each other. We can't let go. We can't give up."

Still, Allen Kruse's death could be about more than oil. Fairey said the past few years haven't been easy for anyone in Orange Beach.

"This has been a long-term situation," Fairey said. "This started in 2004, with a direct hit from Hurricane Ivan, then the next year was Katrina, then skyrocketing fuel prices, fishing regulations, then an oil spill. This has been six years that this area has really suffered a lot of stress."

Still, nothing has hit as hard as the oil spill, which has robbed fisherman of their ability to make a living -- and now, of their friend.

CNN's David Mattingly and Anderson Cooper contributed to this report.

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.

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