‘So unfair:’ Girlfriend of 38yo Richland veteran speaks out after he was found deceased during heatwave

RICHLAND, Wash. — Tiffany Woodrome remembers Sean Aaberg, her boyfriend of four-and-a-half years, as “a goofball” who loved being a father and making others laugh.

“He wanted to be everybody’s friend,” Woodrome said. “He would literally do anything for anyone.”

Some of her favorite memories include the stay-at-home dad taking their children “constantly to the parks.”

“He wanted to keep them active and happy,” Woodrome said. “He loved the kids so much.”

Aaberg was also a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, serving two tours in Afghanistan on a helicopter squadron before retiring in 2015.

But when he returned, Woodrome said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychiatric condition that affects thousands of veterans nationwide.

“He told me he was 100% disabled through the VA. Since I met him, he seemed to progressively get worse,” Woodrome said. “So I hooked him up with counselors and the VA and he started taking medication.”

For a while, things got better for the couple, until Sean would go through cycles of not taking his prescriptions.

“He had what I call PTSD episodes, to the point where I had to take him to ER’s to get evaluated, and then he was committed, involuntarily, into a psych ward for two weeks,” Woodrome said. “Then they would put them on medication and he would get out again. Same thing, he’d take the medication for a while, and then he would start feeling better. Then he’d stop and he’d spiral. It was just like an up and down roller coaster.”

It was during one of Aaberg’s downward spiral episodes toward the end of July that Woodrome said it came to a breaking point.

“He was so lost and confused and was just saying random things in the home and just completely out of it,” Woodrome said. “I felt it unsafe for him to be in the home with my three kids in there, so I said, ‘I need you to go to an ER.'”

She said Aaberg then left the house, walking straight into the extreme triple-digit temperatures that rocked the region in the recent heatwave.

READ: First Alert Weather – Get prepared for the 2022 heat wave hitting this week

That would be the last time Woodrome saw her boyfriend.

“He never made it to an ER. I called all the ER’s in town for a couple days straight and he never showed up,” Woodrome said. “Then he went missing for four days.”

She spent days filing missing persons reports and calling local police departments and the crisis response team but “they really couldn’t do anything because we didn’t know where he was.”

Then on Aug. 1 while she was at work, Woodrome said she got a call that she never expected.

“I received a phone call from the Benton County Coroner. He told me that Sean had passed away from the heat, and that Sean earlier had been at Kadlec to actually get help. He actually finally went to an ER,” Woodrome said. “He ended up pulling his IV out because he thought they were trying to poison him and left shortly later.”

Aaberg had been found collapsed on a sidewalk on the 1500 block of Thayer Dr. in Richland that afternoon.

“What’s really sad is that he actually did make it to an ER to get help but he was so out of it that he panicked and left,” Woodrome said.

Now, she is speaking out as she believes that more needs to be done locally to protect those who have served.

“I feel like someone from the VA, or the VA in Richland, Walla Walla, could have called, because I feel like Sean was a high risk case, and just checked up on him once a month…  Somebody could have said, ‘hey, we noticed you haven’t been in. Are you doing okay?’ Just some sort of follow up,” Woodrome said.

Woodrome noted that it can be “hard to tell someone how much another person is struggling mentally.”

“The person going through the mental health issues at the time may appear normal and like nothing’s going on, but really, in their head, it’s a huge, huge battle,” Woodrome said.

If there had been a proper support system, she believed this would not have been the deadly outcome.

“I feel it is so unfair. I tried so hard for four years to get someone to help me or take me seriously like how bad he was. But I really honestly feel that nobody listened to me,” Woodrome said, recalling the numerous instances she reached out to police for welfare checks and other help. “I couldn’t get anybody to help me take him to an ER. You can’t force someone to do something they don’t want to do. But technically he was left on the street this time and he died.”

A GoFundMe for funeral expenses and general help for the family has raised about $4,300 dollars so far.

“I just want him to know that we tried our hardest to help him through what he was going through,” Woodrome said. “I hope he’s at peace now.”