By all accounts, Amanda and Sara Eldritch had mental health issues that rendered them unable to function in mainstream society.
Both diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, the twin sisters would shower for hours each day. They rarely left their home, because they were worried about using public restrooms. They even told local TV station KUSA that they disinfected their skin with rubbing alcohol until it burned.
“They didn’t have a lot of friends,” Morgan Little, who knew them for nearly a decade, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “They were perfectly nice, but their issues were just overwhelming.”
In 2015, the sisters underwent surgery to treat their OCD, becoming the first patients in Colorado to undergo deep brain stimulation. During the procedure, doctor implanted electrode wires in each woman’s head, neck and shoulder. Those wires were hooked up to a battery pack that was placed in each of their chests.
The surgery allowed the women’s doctor to electronically control their impulses, according to a publication from Littleton Adventist Hospital.
The women initially said that the surgery was a resounding success.
“I’m really excited to not feel like I’m at war with my own existence,” Amanda told the hospital publication. “I can be functional enough to go get a job and make a difference. There’s a world out there I want to be a part of.”
Their surgery even got national attention when the twins appeared on the syndicated talk show The Doctors.
But the story ended tragically. Last Friday, Amanda and Sara were found dead in their car at a Colorado rest area. They had sustained gunshot wounds. They appeared to have died in a suicide pact, Sgt. Megan Richards told the Colorado Springs Gazette.
A GoFundMe page talks about the twins’ lives, describing them as “creative, artistic, intelligent, compassionate, kind and generous.” The sisters had three dogs, whom they doted on.
“Their progress after the surgery surpassed all expectations and they packed an entire lifetime into the last three years,” the GoFundMe page reads, “But, there is no cure for mental illness, and they finally succumbed to this insidious disease.”
Acquaintance: ‘Everyone Was Rooting for Them’
On The Doctors, the girls’ mother talked about the early signs that something wasn’t right with her toddler daughters. “There couldn’t be any wrinkles in their socks, and their shoes had to be tied just a certain way,” Kathy Worland recalled. “That process could go on for a half-hour, 45 minutes, an hour.”
“We started losing touch with our friends,” Sara told The Doctors. “When it takes you all day to take a shower, you’re never going to go meet them somewhere. They just stopped calling us.”
“They loved comic books and fantasy worlds,” says Little. “They really wanted to be part of a community, well-liked, well-adjusted women. But they were depressed a lot, and they just couldn’t maintain friendships. It was sad, because no one disliked them. Everyone was rooting for them. The mental illness was just too powerful.”
The hospital that performed the surgery has publicly expressed their grief at the death of the women.
“Our hearts are heavy with the passing of Sara and Amanda Eldritch,” Littleton Adventist Hospital wrote in a Facebook post. “Sara and Amanda were courageous, inspiring women who shared their story, even when difficult to do so, in hopes it might help others.”
Those who knew them will never forget them.
“It’s very sad,” says Little. “But ultimately, they really helped a lot of people. I hope everyone who loves them will take some comfort in that.”
Suicide Prevention: What to Know
Experts say some common warning signs of suicide include discussing a desire to die or feeling anxious or hopeless, like a burden, or trapped or in pain; withdrawing from others; extreme mood swings, including anger and recklessness; and abnormal sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little).
Many suicides have multiple causes and are not triggered by one event, according to experts, who underline that suicidal crises can be overcome with help. Where mental illness is a factor, it can be treated.
Reaching out to those in need is a simple and effective preventative measure, experts say.
If you or someone you know is showing warning signs of suicide, consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, texting the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or seeking help from a professional.