On Sunday, September 27th, tragedy struck the family of country music performer Eddie Montgomery—one half of the popular country duo Montgomery Gentry. Eddie Montgomery’s 19-year-old son Hunter was taken off of life support at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital in Lexington Sunday morning after what was described as an “accident” left Hunter clinging to life. At the time, further details were not disclosed.
“My son Hunter went to heaven today,” Eddie Montgomery said in a statement released on Sunday. “I appreciate all your prayers and love and thank you for giving us privacy as we grieve and say goodbye.”
Due to the celebrity status of Eddie Montgomery, not much privacy was extended, and immediately the public and the media began to speculate about what undisclosed “accident” caused the unexpected death of Hunter Montgomery.
Hunter was engaged to a woman named Davara Little, who was also the mother of his four-month-old son Bennett, but a few months previous to Hunter’s death the couple split up, and custody of Bennett went to the 21-year-old Little. Hunter Montgomery was said to be distraught over this, and immediately thoughts of the “accident” being either a drug overdose or a suicide began to swirl.
Eddie Montgomery’s ex-wife, and Hunter’s mother Tracy Nunan is who found the teen unconscious in her home. Hunter was in his room, watching ESPN when Nunan went to check on him. She found him laying unconscious on the floor, called 911 and performed CPR on Hunter. She says he responded a “little bit,” but may have been without oxygen for a while.
In the aftermath, Tracy Nunan emphatically denied that drugs were involved in Hunter’s death. Nunan works as nurse at a drug recovery center, and said she would have recognized the signs of drug use if Hunter had a problem. She also said that Hunter did take prescription pills, but did not abuse drugs. She also said she did not know why Eddie Montgomery characterized her son’s death as an “accident,” which alluded to the idea that drugs could be involved.
Tracy Nunan told the UK’s Daily Mail on Wednesday, September 30th, “I think he had a seizure, but I don’t know what brought it on. He did not do drugs and he did not experiment with drugs. I don’t know what caused his death. My Hunter just went to sleep. I am aware that the coroner has asked for toxicology tests and that is standard when someone young dies without explanation. Hunter had recently passed a drugs test for a new job. There was no drugs in his system otherwise he would not have passed.”
But on Thursday, October 1st, Tracy Nunan changed her story completely.
“Grieving the loss of a child is the most heart-wrenching experience any parent can imagine. It defies description,” she said in a statement. “Since the media refuses to respect our request for privacy, I’m taking another route in hope that we might get some peace for our grieving, and more important, in hope that Hunter’s story might help others.”
“Our son died of an overdose,” Nunan said. “We believe it was accidental and will continue to believe that. We know that he needed help. Maybe Hunter’s – and our family’s – pain will help another family avoid this. Not a day will go by without our missing him. Now that your curiosity is satisfied, please have the respect to stop hounding us. Instead, take our story and use it to help others.”
The message was posted on Facebook, but appeared to be taken down later. Meanwhile the Daily Mail article where Nunan refuted the idea that the death was an overdose remained unrevised.
The coroner’s office in Lexington, Kentucky has concluded the autopsy of Hunter Montgomery, but it will take at least three weeks before the toxicology report comes back and the coroner can determine the official cause of death.
However, even though an official cause of death has yet to be determined, multiple media outlets, including the UPI, Entertainment Tonight, and others are reporting the cause of death for Hunter Montgomery as an overdose, solely based on a statement by the mother, who 24 hours before was completely ruling out an overdose, appears to have redacted her statement, and is clearly distraught over the loss of her son.
The Daily Mail article on Hunter Montgomery’s death includes information from an interview conducted with Nunan, but then concludes with the testimony of an “unnamed source” that says the teen had been experimenting with synthetic marijuana. It also says that the Lexington, Kentucky corner, Gary Ginn, said that overdose was a “possibility,” but any cause of death can be possible ahead of the conclusive findings of a toxicology report. The way the Daily Mail set up their article on this matter, it appears to catch a grieving mother in a lie, which could have stimulated Tracy Nunan’s later confession.
The truth is we do not know how Hunter Montgomery died at this moment. Nobody does for sure. Nothing will be conclusive for at least three weeks until the toxicology arrives. Saving Country Music specifically dealt with this same coroner’s office in Lexington on another case just a few short months ago and can attest that three weeks may be an ambitions timeline to receive the toxicology results, unless a rush is ordered.
Jon Hensley, an artist manager for Wanda Jackson, Shooter Jennings, and others, passed away on June 1st, 2015 in Bowling Green, Kentucky under circumstances similar to Hunter Montgomery’s. Just like in Hunter’s case, the public immediately seized on the “accidental” nature of the death to assume it was an overdose, even though the coroner and investigator in the case cautioned the public on settling on a cause of death before the autopsy and toxicology had been concluded.
Ultimately, it was determined that the primary cause of death in Jon Hensley’s case was choking, not an overdose, though the coroner also cited that drugs, specifically levels of Xanax well above the therapeutic level, as well as a high blood alcohol levels were what likely led to the choking incident. However, not wanting the public to know that drugs and alcohol were involved, a concerted effort was undertaken by individuals close to Jon Hensley to hide the truth of the autopsy.
The reason for this was the same reason Hunter Montgomery’s mother, Tracy Nunan, initially tried to convince the public to rule out an overdose in her son’s death.
In another case of a public figure dying by accident, ladies pro golfer Erica Blasberg was in her Henderson, Nevada home on May 9th, 2010, and had died by affixing a plastic bag over her head. She had also taken large doses of Xanax right before her death, and it was ruled by the coroner to be a contributing factor. However police initially believed foul play might be involved because Blasberg’s doctor, Thomas Hess, had removed the suicide note and the Xanax pills from the scene “to spare the family embarrassment.” Hess was later charged with obstruction of justice.
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The idea that individuals and families in the public eye involved in these tragic events can seek and receive the privacy they ask for is a fairly tale in this age of social media, whether it’s fair or not. And the Freedom of Information Act ensures that such things as autopsy and toxicology reports and police records can and will be made public. No matter what the cause of death is, it is a forgone conclusion that this information will be a matter of public record and seized upon by the media, no matter how long it takes, or what attempt is made to conceal it. If anything, the free flow of facts to ferret out rumors that can be especially hurtful to families, and patience by the public until conclusive findings can be determined, is what families should insist upon from the public and media.
But the reason that families and friends work to conceal the cause of death in instances of suicides and overdoses is because they fear it will bring shame to them. But the true shame should be on the public for passing judgement on these families dealing with these tragedies. Even the most cursory study into the nature of mental health will conclude that the most well-adjusted and functional of families among us can still be faced with the serious, and sometimes fatal diseases of depression and addiction. Why death by drug overdose is seen as shameful compared to seizure or choking is a flaw of perception on the frequency and severity of mental health issues facing society today.
Issues of mental health should not been seen as different from any other physical ailments, aside from how the sometimes fatal results can be prevented. And honest information is the only way the public can learn from these preventable tragedies when they do occur, especially from families of public figures who are in a unique position to spread awareness about the dangers of certain mental health issues.
As Hunter Montgomery’s grieving mother Tracy Nunan said, “Maybe Hunter’s – and our family’s – pain will help another family avoid this … take our story and use it to help others.”