The mayor of a small town in Alabama told a concerned friend he was living through “dark days” before his suicide in the wake of a conservative blog outing him as a cross-dresser last week.
F.L. “Bubba” Copeland, the mayor of Smiths Station, shot himself in front of law enforcement last Friday, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. His death came two days after 1819 News published an article about his “secret life” despite him asking them not to for the sake of his family and his role as a pastor at a church in Phenix City.
The right-wing outlet, which is edited by Breitbert contributor Jeff Poor, published an initial story last Wednesday allegedly showing social media accounts operated by Copeland in which he identified as a transgender woman and shared images of himself in women’s underwear. The outlet published another story on the day of his death alleging that he wrote violent fiction and posted photographs online of people in his local community without their consent.
Phenix City School Superintendent Larry DiChiara told NBC News Monday that he decided to get in touch with Copeland after seeing people “just relentlessly attacking” him after 1819 News started publishing its pieces.
“It was the day before he passed away,” DiChiara said. “I said: ‘Bubba, keep your head up. You’re a good man with a great heart. Don’t ever forget that. Call me if you need me.’” DiChiara said Copeland thanked him and said: “‘It’s been some dark days.’” DiChiara says he reassured his friend that it “will pass.”
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones says Copeland contacted him last Wednesday in the wake of the first article. “It was a friend calling a friend,” Jones said. “Let’s just say he was concerned about the article. I think ‘upset.’ would be a good way of putting it.”
Authorities say a welfare check was called into the sheriff’s office on Friday, and two deputies found him driving on a county road. The deputies tried to get him to pull over for around 10 minutes before Copeland got out of his car and took his own life, Jones said. He added that law enforcement had “no idea” Copeland would do so. “It’s just tragic all the way around,” he said.
DiChiara said Copeland’s son “is taking it pretty tough.” Copeland is also survived by a wife and two daughters, according to an obituary shared on his church’s Facebook page. In his final sermon, delivered Wednesday, Copeland said he’d been the “object of an internet attack” and explained he’d taken “pictures with my wife in the privacy of our home in an attempt of humor, because I know I’m not a handsome man nor a beautiful woman, either.”
He went on to apologize for “any embarrassment caused by my private and personal life” and thanked people who had contacted him with messages of support. “I love my family, they’re No. 1, and again I’m sorry for what my actions have caused,” he added.
Ansley Summerlin, a hairstylist who knew Copeland when she lived in Alabama, told NBC News she’d found social media pictures of herself allegedly taken by Copeland and posted online. “I will say this has caused me a lot of anxiety and panic attacks,” she said. “There’s just so many emotions that comes with this. After reading those stories, with the names of girls I know, it’s all very disturbing.”
The City of Smiths Station said in a Facebook statement Monday that it was “deeply saddened” by Copeland’s death and called him a “champion” of the area who was “always excited to show off our City to anyone who visited.” The statement also said that Mayor Pro Tem Morris Jackson had “immediately stepped into the leadership role” following Copleand’s passing.
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing or texting 988.