SUMMERVILLE — During his final night alive, Robert Ellis grilled Italian sausages and drank a beer with his buddy Earl Franklin.

Suicide warning signs

More Americans now commit suicide than die in car crashes, making it the leading cause of injury deaths, according to the federal government.Warning signs include:Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves.Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun.Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.Talking about being a burden to others.Increased use of alcohol or drugs.Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.Sleeping too little or too much.Withdrawal or isolation.Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.Displaying extreme mood swings.If you are or someone you know is in need of help, call the local Trident United Way suicide hotline at 211 or the National Suicide Prevention Center at 800-273-8255.Source: National Suicide Prevention Center

Franklin thought his longtime friend seemed fine, despite Ellis’ recent separation from his wife of 10 years. Ellis, a carpenter, had lived at Franklin’s house since Dec. 19.

“You all right?” Franklin asked.

“Yeah, I’m all right,” Ellis replied.

Only hours later, in the pre-dawn darkness of Jan. 17, Ellis came unhinged and attacked his wife with a baseball bat before taking his own life in Franklin’s garage.

The experience left Franklin so shaken that he has slept only three hours since, he said Tuesday.

“I’m trying to keep myself busy to keep my mind occupied,” he said.

Franklin, who has been friends with Ellis for three decades, said Ellis didn’t seem depressed. He was a soft-spoken, friendly, happy man who was ready with a helping hand.

“Bobby would give you the shirt off his back,” Franklin said.

Ellis’ wife, Mercia King-Ellis, saw something else about him. She had obtained an order of protection against him that was in effect when he attacked her as she walked to her car. She was left with 13 stitches in her head and bruises on her back, arms and legs.

In an interview Friday, King-Ellis declined to discuss her husband, other than to say he was not an alcoholic or drug addict. She said there was verbal abuse in their marriage. She grew concerned when he told her that he was going to kill himself and take someone with him.

Franklin said he does not know what went on in the marriage, but the Ellis he knew was not the sort of fellow who would go on a violent rampage, then take his life.

Ellis’ death is not a rarity. More Americans now commit suicide than die in car crashes, making suicide the leading cause of injury deaths, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in December.

Recently, the U.S. government provided $56 million to help fund suicide-prevention programs. In 2009, more than 37,000 Americans took their own lives, and more than 500,000 were at risk of suicide, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Franklin said there was no hint during their cook-out that Ellis was on the verge of attacking his wife and taking his life.

“He wasn’t mad or anything the night before. He seemed OK,” Franklin said.

Had he lived, Ellis would have been charged with attempted murder and violation of the protection order, according to a police report.

“I never heard him say he was going to kill himself. I guess he couldn’t face the fact that he was going to jail,” Franklin said.

Ellis and Franklin, both 60, were looking forward to going to an orientation for new jobs as van drivers. After the backyard cook-out, Franklin said he went to bed at 9 p.m. and told Ellis he would see him in the morning. Franklin said he didn’t hear Ellis leave in his truck during the night.

Early on Jan. 17, Franklin was putting a ladder back in his garage when he discovered Ellis’ body dangling, a rope noose around his neck.

“I found him hanging from the rafters. I looked up and there he was. He was gone,” Franklin said.

He found out about what Ellis had done during the attack on his wife when he called police to report the suicide.

“I’ll never understand. Nothing can prepare you for this,” he said.