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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Officials identify body found in river

Peter Jose  rehearses with On Stage! in 2006.  (File)

A man found dead in the Spokane River on Sunday had a long history of mental illness and likely committed suicide, family said on Monday.

Peter L. Jose, 34, had schizophrenia but regularly skipped his medication and frequently threatened to harm himself, said Mary Lee Gaston, mother of Jose’s ex-wife.

Gaston’s daughter, who also has schizophrenia, left Jose about a year ago, and he hadn’t seen their young daughter in months because of his ongoing struggle with his mental health, Gaston said.

Gaston learned of Jose’s death Monday after an autopsy by the Spokane County medical examiner’s office.

“It’s just heartbreaking, but it’s just totally out of our hands,” Gaston said. “When people are very, very mentally ill, they have another world they live in. And poor Peter did.”

Spokane police detectives are still investigating Jose’s death, said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, department spokeswoman.

Riverfront Park security found his body in the Spokane River just north of the Skyride on Sunday morning. He was not carrying identification, and he showed no obvious signs of trauma, police said.

Gaston said she’s been deeply worried about him because of the holiday season and his daughter’s upcoming 6th birthday. She hadn’t seen him in months, but she thought she spotted his car parked outside his apartment near West Third Avenue and South Washington Street on Sunday.

Investigators haven’t said where Jose entered the river or how long he was there.

His sister said he recently moved to the apartment. “I guess I just don’t understand why he would have done this now,” she said. “When he was on his medication, he was great. But occasionally he would not take them or he would forget to take them. But he was not always like that.”

Spokane police stopped Jose from jumping off a bridge about a year ago and took him to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center for mental health treatment, but he left the hospital soon after arriving, Gaston said.

He often said he didn’t want to take his medication.

“That’s the greatest trouble with mental illness,” said Gaston, a longtime advocate for improved mental health services. “There are medicines that will calm all the voices but the majority of people do not stay on their meds.”

Jose’s life wasn’t always troubled. He was stable for several years and was a great father just after his daughter was born. He held her for the first time at the hospital.

“He walked like he was walking on water. He was just so proud of that baby,” Gaston said.

Jose also loved to perform. He was involved in a local theater group for people with mental illness, On Stage!, before government spending cuts forced its closure. Jose starred in musicals and practiced four nights a week.

“He had a stage presence and brilliance about him that was incomprehensible,” Gaston said. “You would never know he was mentally ill.”