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Authorities ruled their father's death a suicide, but his family said it doesn't add up

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Posted at 8:26 AM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 08:41:52-05

CLEVELAND — Terry Hugo was a husband, a father and a grandfather.

“He was super close with my son,” said Michelle Hugo, his daughter. “My dad would take him to baseball games, football games and basketball games. He just did everything with my son.”

Michelle said her father had a dry sense of humor.

“He would do something to get someone’s goat,” she said. “But, he was my dad, regardless.”

She said he was also a man who would never abandon the ones he loved.

“He went missing. It was a Monday,” she said.

In July of 2019, 69-year-old Terry left his Brookpark home and never came back.

“He wouldn’t disappear overnight or for long periods of time. That wasn’t him,” said Michelle Hugo.

Michelle said she and her brother filed a missing person’s report and waited for word. After weeks of waiting, that word came when Cleveland police showed up at her parent’s house.

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“I ran over to my mom’s house and I barely made it to the door when they said that my dad had passed away,” said Michelle.

Her father’s body was found in a creek near West 150 Street in Cleveland. It was close to the auto repair shop her father had owned for decades.

According to the autopsy, Terry had two gunshot wounds, one behind his left ear and the other at the base of his skull.

Hugo said they waited for four months as Cleveland police detectives investigated his death.

“Mostly I want justice. I want to find the person that did this,” said Michelle.

But the answer she received from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office and Cleveland police only formed more questions, as officials ruled Terry’s death a suicide and closed the case.

“How do you shoot yourself twice in the head in two different directions? One of them being in the base of the skull and the left side when he’s right-handed? It didn’t make sense,” said Hugo.

News 5 asked those exact questions to the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner, Dr. Thomas Gilson. He didn’t want to do an interview but said he remembers Terry’s case well. Gilson said while it is uncommon to shoot yourself in the head more than once, it is not unheard of. He also said it is uncommon for someone to not use his or her dominant hand when shooting themselves, but again, it is not unheard of. Gilson said that sometimes, people can use their dominant hand to balance the gun and pull the trigger with the other hand, going on to say it seemed like Terry’s first gunshot wound wounded him, but did not kill him.

Dr. Gilson said when forensic pathologists are working to determine a cause of death, they often take into consideration what police found in the investigation, and in Terry’s case, detectives told the examiners that Terry was despondent.

Hugo said her father was not suicidal.

“It just wasn’t him,” she said.

The Hugo family hired licensed private investigator Robert Slattery with J.A.B Investigative Services.

“It was just dumbfounding that they declared this suicide,” said Slattery. “I think they’re relying too much on one statement by police that Terry was despondent. Terry from multiple sources was the kind of guy that just had a cold, off-handed sense of humor. He made comments like ‘today’s a good day to die,’ and as morbid as that is, that was his personality.”

Slattery said things around Terry’s death just don’t add up. There was never a gun found near his body.

“Bank accounts were drained, there was a large amount of weapons missing,” he said.

Michelle said none of the missing items were ever found.

“What’s missing? Large amounts of money, all of his guns, all of them missing, not one, and he had several,” she said.

But Slattery has hit a roadblock in his own investigation. He said despite multiple public records requests to the city of Cleveland, he has yet to receive Terry’s full case file. The city has only provided him with the initial report from the day his body was found and nothing regarding the 4-month investigation after and how they came to the conclusion that Terry was suicidal.

“Show us what you did or did not do, and right now, we can’t say they did anything because we don’t know,” said Slattery.

For the Hugo family, it’s been a year and a half of unknowns and unanswered questions.

“It’s tearing them up. It’s the first thing they think about when they get up. It’s the last thing they think about when they go to bed,” said Slattery.

And while all the Hugo family has left are photographs of the past, Michelle said she can’t move forward until she has a full picture of how her dad’s life came to an end.

“We want answers. There’s just no way this could’ve happened,” she said.

News 5 reached out to the Cleveland Division of Police for comment multiple times but has not heard back. News 5 requested Terry Hugo’s case file but hasn’t received the full report.