You could count on him

Trent Thorp was a simple man with a simple life.

He liked to spend the days with a fishing rod in his hand and the nights cracking open a six-pack beside a bonfire. He worked hard and dedicated himself to serving his country and providing for his family.

Those who knew the 32-year-old soldier described him as a kind-hearted, loving man who doted on his daughters and elicited smiles wherever he went.

He was sweet, thoughtful, simple. A what-you-see is what-you-get kind of guy.

Thorp’s death – sitting partially upright in the street, fumbling with a gun as four Lakewood police officers shouted commands at him – was more complex.

His family and friends are struggling with shock, grief and unanswered questions about what drove such an easygoing man to leave his own Halloween party and walk down the street to shoot himself in the head.

No one knows for sure, but those closest to him believe an increasingly difficult life caught up to him after an evening of drinking. Some refuse to believe Thorp tried to commit suicide before police arrived and fired nine shots into him.

Instead, they’re finding comfort in the good memories, the happier times.

Thorp grew up in Bellingham fishing in nearby lakes, playing GI Joes, climbing trees and shooting BB guns at birds his older sister and cousin would nurse back to health.

“He was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, always the one you could count on no matter what,” said Dana Devries, who had known Thorp since middle school.

When they were teenagers, Thorp stayed by her bedside when she had her wisdom teeth pulled, eager to entertain. When Devries woke up from drug-induced naps, Thorp would be sitting there patiently, making silly faces.

He was 12 when he met Shannon Crittenden, his cousin’s best friend, but it would be more than a decade before they got together.

“He grew into his ears, got his braces off and swept me off my feet,” Crittenden-Thorp said.

Thorp graduated from high school and spent several years making rope, a job he excelled at but saw no future in. The couple married and quickly had their first child, Mia. When their second daughter, Chloe, was just months old, Thorp’s long-held dream of joining the Army came true.

He enlisted in May 2008 and was off to boot camp.

“He knew that was one way he could support his family and his country at the same time,” Devries said.

Being separated from his family was tough on Thorp, so Crittenden-Thorp took their oldest daughter and drove to visit him at Fort Lee, Va.

He wasn’t allowed to leave the base – he couldn’t even get inside a car – so they took long walks. In the headlights of the rental car, Thorp colored pictures with Mia late into the night, their crayons bending from the heat.

“He lived and breathed for those girls,” Crittenden-Thorp said. “He never wanted them to want for nothing. Family was so important to him.”

Thorp also loved snowboarding, chuckled when his Army buddies called him “Old Man” and never hesitated to help others in need.

“He was a very compassionate, caring kid,” said his mother, Debi. “He just reached out to everybody.”

Thorp was stationed at Fort Lee, so his wife and daughters moved with him to Virginia. He worked as a petroleum supply specialist and later as a driver and a gunner.

Disagreements became more frequent in the months before Thorp deployed to Afghanistan in June 2010 and he and his wife decided to separate.

They agreed to date other people but remained close friends. When he returned from his tour, Crittenden-Thorp taught Thorp how to cook and helped him buy a car.

When Thorp re-enlisted, he decided to settle at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, even though it meant being away from his daughters. He moved to Lakewood in early October, bringing along his new girlfriend and her two kids.

Crittenden-Thorp said he called her nearly every day, stressing about his new relationship and not having enough money to pay the bills. He missed his children. They talked about splitting the cost of a plane ticket so he could be reunited with the girls for Christmas.

“I heard he was unhappy, he couldn’t afford to pay child support and I thought, ‘That’s not like Trent,’” said his cousin, Alana Kelley.

He hosted a costume party at his house in the 4800 block of Yew Lane Southwest the night he died. Alcohol was consumed.

Kelley said Thorp was instant messaging with his niece about 10:45 p.m., giving her advice about joining the military.

Friends said they don’t know what spurred him to change out of his costume, take his gun and walk up the block. They said he appeared to be having a good time.

A neighbor heard a single gunshot outside his house and waited several minutes before walking outside. He spoke briefly with Thorp, who insisted he was OK although the pool of blood behind him was growing.

Police arrived within a minute early Oct. 23 and found Thorp fumbling with his gun. Four officers opened fire when he did not put down the weapon. The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office later ruled Thorp had shot himself in the head once before police shot him nine times.

Family members said he might have been depressed or might have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, but there’s no way to know now. The hardest part is not knowing.

Crittenden-Thorp waited four days to tell their daughters.

It still hurts each day. His family misses Thorp, the way he made them laugh, the comfort his presence offered.

“He was all and all a great person,” said his sister, Miranda Thorp-Pefley. “He will forever be missed. You can’t replace a person like that.”

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653