Eric and Greg Kochman were athletic, well-liked high school students. So why did they kill themselves?
On the afternoon of Saturday, May 4, 2001, the nine-person cast of the Monadnock Regional High school production of Ordinary People gathered in the school auditorium in Swanzey, New Hampshire, for their first dress rehearsal. Opening night was only four days away, and the cast’s five boys and four girls were starting to feel the pressure. The mood was strained and occasionally hostile.
The problem, most everyone agreed, was an angry Greg Kochman, who played the lead role of Conrad, a suicidal teenager coping with the death of his older brother. Then a junior at Monadnock, Greg was in one of his moods. “He was so angry that week, and that day was the worst of it,” recalls Kristen Arrow, who played Conrad’s mother in the play. “He would just lash out at people for no reason. It was the first day that I had gotten really irritated at Greg.”
Still, there was no denying that Greg could act. And on Saturday, the broad-shouldered, brown-haired 17-year-old was acting even better than usual.
“Then I sit down and think about—things,” Greg, playing the role of Conrad, said. “Everything that hurts. And I cry. Inside, I’m burning up. Outside—all I can feel is the cold tile floor. And my chest feels so tight—it hurts—everything hurts—so I hold out my hand and close my eyes—and I slice, one quick cut, deep cut.”
Katharine DePew, who played Conrad’s therapist in the play, had never heard Greg say the lines so well. “He said it static, monotone, and it was the best he had ever done,” says DePew. “It was eerie.”
That’s because Ordinary People—based on the novel by Judith Guest, which was later made into an Academy Award-winning movie directed by Robert Redford—was supposed to be therapeutic for Greg. After all, Greg was, like Conrad, deeply depressed over the death of his popular and well-liked older brother. Like Conrad, Greg was seeing a therapist. Like Conrad, Greg had already tried to kill himself.
Theater, it seemed, was going to save him. “Greg loved the role of Conrad,” recalls Casey Gallagher, a friendly, demonstrative Monadnock senior who considered Greg his best friend. “He needed that role. He was acting out what he felt for his brother.”
Still, the play didn’t make Greg any less sad. The day before Saturday’s dress rehearsal, he broke down crying in the school auditorium. Saturday wasn’t much better. “By the end of rehearsal,” recalls DePew, who is tall and gangly with long brown hair, “I just wanted to go somewhere a little more positive.”
That was nothing new for DePew, who was increasingly trying to build boundaries in a rocky relationship that had become exhausting. Their close friendship started because DePew had a crush on Greg, and though she says their relationship never included a serious romantic element, friends say they saw never-ending sexual tension between the two.
DePew—who is funny, emotionally intense, and brutally sarcastic—essentially became Greg’s unofficial therapist. “Greg expected me to be there twenty-four hours a day for him,” she says. “And I tried to be, but I also had to live my life, too.”
As she left the auditorium that Saturday, Greg, who was sitting in the first row, told her he loved her. “He had never said that to me before,” she says. “But I was so frustrated with everything, I just said ‘Bye’ and went to the parking lot to get my car.”
She drove her Honda Accord toward the auditorium’s entrance, where she intended to wait for cast member Kristen Arrow. Greg put his hands up for her to stop. When she did, he asked if he could call her.
“I told him that I probably wouldn’t be home, that I was going out and wouldn’t be back until late,” recalls DePew. “He said, ‘Please, can I just call you?’ I said, ‘I probably won’t be home, but sure, you can call.’ I was just pissed off.”
DePew and Arrow went to dinner by themselves, where they spent most of the meal complaining about Greg. Jordan Self and Gallagher, Greg’s best friends that year, thought about inviting Greg out with them but decided against it. “It was, like, ‘Okay, this is leave-Greg-alone time for a little while,’” says Self.
The boys went to a friend’s house, where they spent the night playing video games and doing doughnuts in their friend’s truck in a nearby field. As the boys headed back to Self’s house, they almost called Greg. “But we were both tired,” recalls Self. “We wanted to go home and make nachos.”
DePew dropped Arrow off at home at about ten, then headed north on Route 12. When she reached Monadnock Regional High School, she had a choice to make: she could go left, which would bring her to Greg’s house, or she could turn right and drive to her house in nearby Troy. “I put my blinker on and was about to go to Greg’s, but then I thought, ‘It’s kind of late—maybe I shouldn’t,’” she says. “I just drove home.”
Greg’s father, David, and his wife, Sandy, got home from dinner with friends at about 8:30. Greg’s 1994 Ford Escort wagon was in the driveway, but he wasn’t home. Greg was scheduled to work at 6 a.m. the next morning at the Colony Mill, a marketplace in Keene.
When David went into Greg’s room to wake him up the next morning, he found an empty bed. David walked downstairs and was about to call Jordan Self’s mother when he looked out the window and saw Greg sitting in a plastic lawn chair by the pool.
What David couldn’t see from the window—but what he would discover when he walked out back—was that this younger son, like his older son a year before, had fatally shot himself in the head.
David Kochman is a short, athletic, 45-year-old man with curly black hair and a mustache. He is punctual, polite, friendly, and disciplined. When he laughs, which he does often and unexpectedly, his face scrunches up, his shoulders bob up and down, and his mouth emits rapid-fire chuckles. Until Eric’s death two years ago, he had never cried as an adult.
A man of habit, David rises early most mornings to exercise at Gold’s Gym, after which he works eight-hour days as a premium audit manager at Peerless Insurance in Keene, a ten-minute drive from his spacious home in a quiet, wooded area of Swanzey.
When his boys were young, David spent much of his free time shuttling them to and from soccer games, baseball games, and weight-lifting events. Both Eric and Greg loved sports, and they seemed intent on making their father proud.
“Eric would always call me at work and tell me to hurry home because he had a new soccer move to show me,” recalls David. “And when Greg was nine, I coached his soccer team, and I remember at one practice some of the other kids weren’t paying as much attention to me as they should. Greg, who was already pretty intense at that age, turned to the kids and said, ‘If my father tells you to run through a wall, your only question should be, which wall?’”
When David and his boys weren’t talking about sports, it’s a good bet they were discussing politics. David, Greg, and, to a lesser extent, Eric, were regulars at New Hampshire Republican fund-raisers and political dinners.
“Eric and Greg were always busy doing something,” says the boys’ mother, Rose, who lived with them until 1997, when she and David divorced. “It was nonstop.” (continued on page 2)