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Heitman mother visits TN’s Tranquility Ridge for closure in son’s reported suicide

By   /   August 4, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

COCKE COUNTY, Tenn. — Tranquility Ridge Drive, out in the country near the tiny town of Newport, appears exactly as the name suggests.

Visitors here see hay fields and, far off in the distance, Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains.

There are no houses along this road. Aside from an occasional four-wheeler, it’s quiet, serene.

But something terrible happened here three summers ago, and town officials still aren’t completely forthcoming about it.

Tranquility Ridge Drive is where Annette Heitman’s son, Alex, reportedly took his own life. She and a growing group of followers doubt the official story.

Photo by Chris Butler

TRANQUILITY RIDGE: Tennessee blogger Kristy Herron, right, with Annette Heitman at the reported scene of her son’s death.

Heitman, who lives in Wisconsin, came to Cocke County for the first time last week to visit the scene.

“I wanted to see the place where he passed away and to try to come to some type of understanding of this and how he got there, and I don’t think we can understand how,” Heitman said.

“It’s so far away and so remote. I can’t imagine how he would have ended up in a place like this. It’s very difficult for me to comprehend.”

Alex Heitman worked 70 miles away in Oak Ridge, as the school district’s director of business services. He had gone to police about the theft of school money and, according to police reports, people used some of that money to buy methamphetamine.

Those police reports contradict Oak Ridge Police Chief James Akagi, who told Tennessee Watchdog earlier this year Alex was in no way involved in the case.

Annette Heitman said she came to Tranquility Drive for a sense of closure, yet still hasn’t resolved many of her battles with authorities in Oak Ridge and Cocke County over relevant information about the case. Four Oak Ridge natives, most of whom she’d only known through social media — certainly never face-to-face — accompanied her.

These people — Kristy Herron, Andrew Howe and Susie Taylor — have kept the story alive on their blogs, which have generated lots of discussion throughout Oak Ridge.

“I came here to offer moral support,” Howe told Tennessee Watchdog. “It’s always good to have another perspective on the situation.”

Also there was Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn, who has pressed officials in her city for answers.

Photo by Chris Butler

Tranquility Ridge Drive, scene of Alex Heitman’s reported death in 2011, only a few miles outside the east Tennessee town of Newport.

“Their support meant a lot, and it told me there are people that genuinely care about our situation and want the right thing to be done,” Heitman said.

One of the most important questions — regardless of whether he died by his own hand was this: Why here, of all places?

Annette said her son was detail-oriented, “a nerd,” in her words, and he had no knowledge of this rural area and wouldn’t have committed suicide in such a random place.

Heitman’s next stop: the Cocke County Sheriff’s Department, which, to this day, still hasn’t released two of Alex’s guns found at the scene.

Heitman had timed her trip on a weekday afternoon to increase her chances of talking, in person, to some of those officials.

But at 4 p.m. Wednesday, the sheriff’s office was closed.

As previously reported, the Oak Ridge School System only recently announced the existence of documents that suggested Alex Heitman took school money to use on himself. In exchange, Oak Ridge officials want $2,000.

Also, as previously reported, the Oak Ridge Police Department and the Cocke County Sheriff’s Department said they never coordinated with each other to connect any possible dots on the case. Both agencies have offered very little information on the case to Tennessee Watchdog and have not returned messages seeking comment.

While it may seem natural for any parent to express doubts about their child’s suicide, the Heitman parents make a compelling case to back up their beliefs, which are posted on their website.

“I don’t want people to get the idea that I’m some crazy, grieving mother that can’t get past the truth or accept the truth about my child,” Heitman told Tennessee Watchdog during her visit to Tennessee.

“I think the possibility that he could have committed suicide is something we’ve been open to, but with all the hiding of information and all the secrecy and not being truthful about their investigation — all the things that they didn’t do that they said they did. I don’t think there would be a parent that wouldn’t question it.”

Contact Christopher Butler at [email protected] or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Chris formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.