Missing veteran found dead suffered from PTSD

Posted at 2:57 PM, Feb 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-21 23:27:44-05

LEBANON, Ohio -- The Warren County Sheriff identified the body found Saturday night in the Little Miami River as Aaron Berns, the man who deputies said jumped in the river in January. Berns has been missing for more than a month.

Berns, 27, of Morrow, was a veteran who suffered from PTSD, his family said.

Police suspected Berns of setting fire to his brother's home in Morrow on Jan. 1. After he was questioned by police, he fled and jumped in the river.

After a weekend-long search of the river and surrounding area, police called off the search for Berns.

His family continued to organize search parties throughout Warren County for seven weeks.

Connie Berns, his adoptive mother, recalled Aaron as a man who enjoyed an active life, but had trouble adjusting to civilian life and getting a job after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"In a way we have closure," Connie Berns said. "But in a way it feels like we have more work to do."

Berns' family organized a vigil at the Little Miami Family Church Sunday for those suffering from PTSD and their families.

"Maybe this will wake up somebody somewhere in some way to say that we need to do something for young people in the military before it ends like this, before they come home and find out they can't adjust," Connie Berns said.

Missy Hubbard, Berns' birth mother, said he was taken by law enforcement officers to a hospital days before the fire and his disappearance for a wellness evaluation after he set a mattress on fire outside. Hubbard said her son was recommended for a 72-hour hold at the hospital, but he returned home about 90 minutes later.

"I truly believe, if my son was properly diagnosed and treated, there would be no fire and they would not be sending divers in the water again this morning," Hubbard said on day two of the search.

Berns was then identified as a person of interest in the fire at his brother Jeremy's home. Jeremy said he left Aaron alone at his three-unit home in Morrow for about an hour.

On Saturday night, Loveland police were alerted of a body found near the end of Betty Ray Drive in Loveland near the river. It was Berns.

His family said they will continue to push for programs to help veterans with PTSD.

"I don't want any family member to lose someone to a tragedy like this, because he could have gotten help," Hubbard said.