The wife of Ben Kilmer, a Vancouver Island man who was found dead from suicide after going missing in May of 2018, has spoken out on a local podcast about mental health issues and the struggles that led up to his death.
Tonya Kilmer spoke to the hosts of the podcast, Obstacle Course, for a multi-part series entitled “Finding Ben Kilmer,” which was released July 15 to August 12 this year.
The co-hosts of Obstacle Course, Andrew Langford and John Close, say that Kilmer reached out to them after speaking to a friend who had been a guest on the podcast earlier.
“We had some connections through previous guests to Tonya,” said Langford in an interview with Victoria Buzz.
“Just like the rest of Vancouver Island we were following along with the story. She actually started messaging us and wanted to develop a relationship.”
From that relationship, Langford and Close say they worked with Kilmer to communicate details of Ben Kilmer’s life that had never been portrayed in the media coverage from his disappearance to his death.
“Tonya from the very beginning has wanted to communicate about this story but never wanted to go in the ‘true crime’ realm of things,” said Close.
“She always wanted to talk about the mental health aspect. Seeing what this did to Ben and hoping to god this doesn’t happen to someone else.”
Ben Kilmer was first reported missing on May 16, 2018. A large search for the Duncan resident made national headlines and attracted widespread social media attention.
His body was found several months later, on October 17, 2018. The BC Coroners Service investigated and reported on June 17, 2019, that Ben Kilmer had died from suicide.
The co-hosts say that Tonya Kilmer’s story was an ideal fit for their podcast, which covers adversity in all forms and people who work through it.
“We’re trying to relate real experiences and things that people can use for their own lives,” said Langford.
“We’re motivated to make a positive impact and help people have conversations that might be a little more difficult.”
A large part of their conversation focused on the stresses in Ben and Tonya Kilmer’s shared life in the days leading up to Ben’s death.
The couple had been experiencing financial difficulties as they tried to build a new home on the Island for themselves and their two children.
In the podcast, Tonya speaks at length about Ben’s mental health struggles during this period of time.
Hurtful conspiracy theories
“[Tonya] needed to get prepared,” said Langford.
“We were probably close to a year developing our relationship, ensuring that we’d built trust with each other so that we could tell the story from a place of vulnerability and authenticity.”
Part of that preparation was acknowledging the risk for harm in raising the story online.
During the search for Ben Kilmer and following the discovery of his body, several conspiracy theories appeared on social media, including accusations that the coroner’s report was falsified and he had died from other causes.
“Social media has changed communication and human interaction forever,” said Close. “People’s negative energies attract, and it turns into a fire.”
“I think it’s important to know that those comments and those theories were harmful,” added Langford.
“People, family members who were going through that were affected. It does create harm and add to the problems of depression and anxiety which are a huge part of this story.”
Confronting mistruths and bringing light to mental health issues, which Close and Langford say are underrepresented in the media landscape, were vital points for Tonya Kilmer.
“She’s hoping that through this unimaginable thing, that if she can save even just one other person, that it will be worth bringing it up again,” said Close.
“I laud her courage in coming forward and pursuing this.”
The podcast co-hosts are hoping that through sharing Tonya Kilmer’s story and other stories from Vancouver Island and beyond, they can bring inspiration to people suffering their own adversities.
Other episodes of Obstacle Course have included conversations with an 11-year-old computer programmer with autism, and a 96-year-old World War 2 veteran.
But the story of Ben Kilmer, as related by his wife Tonya, is especially resonant for both Close and Langford.
“We feel like this podcast can connect to anybody because it’s about pain, it’s something we all universally experience,” said Close.
“When we can find ways of dealing with that pain in a healthy way, even embracing it, we can handle anything.”
Listen to all three audio interviews below:
If you or someone you know needs help, call the B.C. Crisis Centre Distress Line number at 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433.
Finding Ben Kilmer can also be streamed online at obstaclecoursepodcast.com.