A Capitol rioter died by suicide as he was awaiting sentencing on charges of witness tampering, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and two counts of disorderly conduct, officials said.
“Matthew Lawrence Perna died on February 25, 2022 of a broken heart,” his family said in an obituary. “His community (which he loved), his country, and the justice system killed his spirit and his zest for life.”
The Mercer County Coroner’s Office confirmed to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Perna, 37, of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, died by suicide. NBC News has reached out to the coroner for comment.
One of Perna's lawyers, J. Gerald Ingram, confirmed his death by suicide.
The obituary said Perna attended the Jan. 6, 2021, riot “to peacefully stand up for his beliefs” and that upon learning the FBI was looking for him, “he immediately turned himself in.”
He pleaded guilty to all charges in December. Sentencing was set for April 1, court records show.
“The government had recently announced an intention to seek an additional sentencing enhancement with Mr. Perna, and he was psychologically frail and not able to deal with the stress of the situation,” Ingram said.
The obituary said he entered the Capitol through a previously opened door and that he did not break, touch or steal anything but stayed within the velvet ropes taking pictures.
"For this act he has been persecuted by many members of his community, friends, relatives, and people who had never met him," the obituary said.
The obituary pointed to the long prosecution process as having played a role in his death.
“The constant delays in hearings, and postponements dragged out for over a year. Because of this, Matt’s heart broke and his spirit died,” the obituary said.
Perna traveled from Pennsylvania to Washington to attend former President Donald Trump’s "Stop the Steal" rally and marched with others to the Capitol afterward, according a statement of offense.
He told police that when he reached the top of the steps on the building's west side, he was surprised to find the door open. He claimed he was pushed into the building by a crowd that gathered behind him.
Still images of video from inside the building showed Perna wearing a red hoodie emblazoned with the phrase "Make America Great Again."
He was in the building for 20 minutes and was seen recording the riot on his phone chanting “USA! USA!" with the crowd, the statement of offense said.
The same day, he posted a video on Facebook with two others in a hotel room. He claimed that people with Antifa were “chiefly” responsible for breaking the doors and the windows at the Capitol, according to court documents.
Referring to then-Vice President Mike Pence, Perna then said, according to the documents: "It’s not over, trust me. The purpose of today was to expose Pence as a traitor."
Perna was one of the people whose photographs the FBI shared asking for the public’s help to identify them. A person familiar with Perna recognized him and flagged him to police, saying Perna’s Facebook account had posts indicating his support for Trump and QAnon.
Perna was a Penn State University graduate who loved to travel and previously lived in Thailand and South Korea, the obituary said.
“Matt did not have a hateful bone in his body. He embraced people of all races, income brackets, and beliefs, never once berating anyone for having different view,” the obituary said.
Perna’s family supported him as he faced the charges.
“His actions last year are not looked down upon, instead his family is grateful and humbled by his courage,” the obituary said.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.