Northeast Tarrant

April 15, 2014

Questions surround death of former Fossil Ridge wrestler

A 20-year-old Fort Worth student died from strangulation, but a ruling on his death is pending, authorities said.

The father of Dammion Heard stands strong in his belief that his son did not commit suicide.

“Absolutely not,” Gary Heard said Tuesday. “He had been upbeat and there was nothing in his past to indicate that he would commit suicide.”

Dammion Heard, 20, a 2013 graduate of Fossil Ridge High School in north Fort Worth, completed his first season on the wrestling team at Western State Colorado University a few weeks ago.

His body was found April 2 outside Gunnison, Colo., near his 2004 Saturn. Police told Gary Heard that his son committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree. A Colorado death certificate lists the cause of death as strangulation, but a final ruling is pending.

“The investigation into Dammion Heard’s death is active and open,” Gunnison Detective Christopher Danos said in an email Tuesday. “Interviews continue to be a part of this active investigation.”

Last year, Heard won the Class 5A state wrestling championship in the 113-pound division, after finishing as runner-up the previous two years. His victory at state earned him a scholarship to the Colorado school.

In his freshman year, Heard earned a spot on the school’s varsity squad and a trip to regionals.

“He suffered a knee injury and he decided he didn’t want to make it worse, so he decided not to compete [in regionals]. He realized he had three more years, so why risk it,” his father said. “… He had had ups and downs as wrestler before so this wasn’t something that got him depressed.”

Gary Heard said he talked or sent text messages to his son daily, and Dammion called his mother and brother at least once a week.

“We didn’t keep any secrets from each other,” his father said.

‘I know my son’

Gary Heard last talked to his son the afternoon of March 29. The son was at a Gunnison home near the campus where he stayed last summer. A party was scheduled for that evening.

At the party, the circumstances surrounding the death become more complicated.

He got into an altercation with a young man outside the house, and students later told Gary Heard that two other men grabbed his son and pulled him into a bedroom.

“I haven’t found out what happened to him there,” his father said.

Students told Gary Heard they saw photos of Dammion with bruised hands shortly after being pulled into the bedroom, he said.

Dammion left the house the morning of March 30 and texted a friend to meet him at his dorm room on campus, Gary Heard said. The friend, a young woman, texted Dammion back that she was on her way to his dorm, but he never responded.

At 1:30 a.m. March 30, Dammion is shown on surveillance footage pumping $25 worth of gas into his Saturn at a Gunnison gas station. Gary Heard said he has seen the video and identified his son.

“He wasn’t drunk or staggering,” Gary Heard said.

The father also has phone records showing that someone used his son’s phone to send a text message while Dammion was at the Gunnison gas station.

“You can tell he wasn’t texting as he was pumping gas,” Gary Heard said.

He didn’t hear from his son March 30, he said, but he didn’t panic. He called school officials March 31 and made a missing person report April 1.

“I could just feel that something was wrong,” Gary Heard said. “I know my son. He would have called if he could.”

‘I just don’t get it’

Dammion Heard was found April 2 on Bureau of Land Management property, about 8 miles east of Gunnison, which is about 200 miles southwest of Denver.

Gary Heard said Gunnison police found his son’s car locked, the battery from his phone removed and his son’s keys in pant pockets. Dammion’s father traveled to Colorado last week and investigated the scene.

“I took a mannequin out there and hung it up from the only tree that was there,” Gary Heard said. “He couldn’t have been up there very long because you can easily see the tree from the road. And I don’t understand why the battery was taken out of the phone. And why would you lock your car if you’re going to commit suicide?”

Gary Heard said his son would have needed a flashlight to find the tree, but police told him that they didn’t find a flashlight.

“I haven’t seen any evidence to indicate Dammion committed suicide,” his father said. “I’m told by the coroner and police that my son committed suicide before an autopsy has been completed. I just don’t get it.”

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