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KCTV5 Investigates: Missouri mom fights for answers in son's death

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RAY COUNTY, MO (KCTV) -

For the second time in a decade, Terri Proffitt is refusing to accept the Ray County Sheriff's Office's conclusion that a death in her family was the result of Russian roulette.

From the moment she learned of her 32-year-old son's death, the Richmond woman said she has been fighting to learn more about that cold winter night.

"Very frustrating. Don't know what happened. I don't know why we can't get the answers," Proffitt said.

Crime scene photographs taken on Feb. 22 captured the gruesome sight inside Jeremy Proffitt's home. His body lies in the bedroom doorway with a blood-covered hand still clenching the carpet. The gun and bullets were found nearby.

In August, Terri Proffitt invited KCTV5 investigative reporter Eric Chaloux inside that home. She touched the now-patched spot where the fatal bullet lodged and wondered aloud why investigators didn't do more work there.

"They tried to remove it with a pocket knife but it fell into the wall," Terri Proffitt said. "It is still there."

The abandoned bullet is just one of many unanswered questions she has about her son's death.

She thought things would become clearer when she got a chance to look through the law enforcement case file. These records become public once an investigation is closed.

So Terri Proffitt filed an open-records request for the documents. Despite her son's death having been ruled a suicide, Ray County Sheriff Garry Bush refused access to the file, stating that the case remained open.

"I'm at a loss. That is why I came to you," Terri Proffitt told Chaloux.

Her quest for more information is fueled by another death investigation conducted more than a decade ago by the same office.

Investigators ruled the 2002 death of her nephew, Jeffrey Beissenherz, as suicide by Russian roulette.

The family didn't buy that explanation, pointing out problems with things like evidence photos where the gun was shown facing two different directions.

Those discrepancies, in part, led to a case review by outside law enforcement agencies, and charges were eventually filed against other people in that house at the time of death.

KCTV5 filed its own open-records request for the case file from the investigation of Jeremy Proffitt's death. Bush denied one and ignored the other.

To understand Bush's refusal, Chaloux stopped by the Ray County Sheriff's Office in Henrietta.

Chaloux waited there for more than six hours. Staff members denied knowing Bush's location, but said he was not in the building.

A black SUV, driven regularly by the sheriff, was parked out front of the office that entire time.  Minutes after KCTV5 left that parking lot, Chaloux observed the SUV exit and head to the sheriff's home.

It wasn't until the next day that Chaloux caught up with Bush outside the county courthouse in Richmond.

"Sheriff, how you doing? Eric Chaloux from Channel 5. Could I talk to you?" Chaloux asked.

"No. No comment," Bush replied.

"I want to ask why you haven't released any information on the Proffitt case," Chaloux asked.

With the sheriff staying silent on this investigation, KCTV5 tried to get information from the county coroner. He denied the request for his official report.

There was a different kind of problem at the Ray County prosecutor's office where a staff member said she had never handled an open-records request before and didn't know what to do with it.

As weeks went by without answers, KCTV5 reached out to the Missouri Attorney General's Office for assistance. Within an hour of hanging up with the state, Ray County officials were able to produce all the requested documents.

"What was it like to finally get that file?" Chaloux asked Terri Proffitt.

"It was great but they are incomplete," she replied.

Instead of providing the closure she so desperately seeks, she now wants to know why no coroner's report was ever filed in her son's death, why there are no results from the gun residue tests that were performed and the full transcripts from 911 calls made that February night.

"Why were some things not done to check into? Was his life not worth checking into further?" Terri Proffitt asked. "It adds to our grieving."

KCTV5 made written request to the Ray County prosecutor and sheriff's offices in late September for more information.

Two days before the story was to air Thursday night, prosecutor Danielle Rogers finally responded.

She told Chaloux that the case remaining open was merely a technicality because of an outstanding coroner's report and test results from the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

"It was decided very early on by the coroner and law enforcement, that Mr. Proffitt's death was the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound," Rogers said. "Therefore, it was inactive fairly early on."

Then Wednesday, Bush finally contacted Chaloux. He had a different reason for withholding the records.

"I felt sympathetic to the wife - Jeremy's, his children and all his family," Bush said. "There's more than just the mom involved in this. He has a wife and children and her side of the family too."

"So that's why you didn't want to release the file, because of them?" Chaloux asked.

"Of everybody," Bush said. "I think the whole family's gone through a horrific tragedy."

By phone, Rogers revealed that a coroner's report had been turned in that very day. She promised to make that available to KCTV5 along with the gunshot residue test results missing from the file. Those were received late Wednesday afternoon.

The Proffitts have hired a private investigator to review the case filed turned over as a result of KCTV5's investigation.

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