Double tragedy: Suicide follows service dog death

May 24, 2019 04:57 PM

PALMETTO, Fla. (WFLA/NBC News) -- Family members say a Florida man took his own life while overcome by grief over the loss of his beloved service dog.

The dog was killed last Friday when it was attacked by an alligator at Dog Leg Park in Palmetto.

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Sharil Dowling and other witnesses say the chocolate lab somehow got loose while outside the fence with its owner. Next thing Dowling knew, the lifeless dog was slumped over a man's shoulders, covered in blood. 

Dowling described the scene as horrifying but had previous feared such an attack was an accident waiting to happen. 

"Most people, if they knew they were that close to marsh and gators, they wouldn't walk back there," she said. "I can't imagine the anguish that guy was in."

The dog, Java, was a service dog for Andrew Epp, a man who suffered mental health issues. Epp was so distraught, according to family and friends, that he took his own life the very next day. 

"It was just such a sad situation, he couldn't deal with it," said neighbor and family friend Kayla Weston.

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