More than two dozen trained volunteers with Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue, including four dog teams and helicopter support, descended on Hot Springs Canyon last Friday as law-enforcement officials announced that a Chrysler SUV parked for several days near the popular Montecito trail belonged to Captain Wayne Stuart Habell, a Los Angeles County firefighter who had been reported missing. The search mission resumed first thing Saturday morning, and around 6 that evening, a three-person ground team called in the bad news. Off-trail along the west side of the canyon, they had discovered Habell’s body and a firearm under an oak tree. According to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, Habell died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The 43-year-old, who was stationed in Newhall, leaves behind his wife, Jennifer Habell, and their 8-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 11 and 13. In an online statement, Dave Gillotte, president of the Los Angeles County firefighters’ union, said, “We cannot afford to remain silent any longer — don’t let depression live in the shadows. Each day our members battle post-traumatic stress injuries and cumulative stress injuries. We need to bring these issues into the light to ensure people get the help they need.”
On Wednesday, L.A. County firefighters retrieved Habell’s body from the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Bureau, forming a southbound procession along Highway 101. Several calls to agencies in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties to determine if Habell had worked in Montecito during last winter’s natural disasters were inconclusive. “A lot of our guys were up there fighting the Thomas Fire,” said Habell’s friend and fellow fire captain Adam Clint. “But I don’t know the connection he had [with Montecito]. It’s a mystery; it’s what we’re all wondering.” Clint has set up a GoFundMe page, titled “In Memory of Fire Captain Habell,” “to cover funeral costs and any other expenses that may come up,” according to the page. “If you can’t make a donation, please donate an act of kindness to someone you love, or to a complete stranger. Compassion goes a long way.”
If you or someone you know is thinking about hurting themselves, call 9-1-1 or the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255. For more information on suicide prevention, including warning signs and risk factors, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org. A list of regional resources can be found at countyofsb.org/admhs.