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How A Series Of Early Tragedies Shaped Gibbs' Character On NCIS

In the world of "NCIS," few characters are more formidable than Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) — the leader of an elite group of investigators that work to bring the most problematic of criminals to justice. Gibbs — a former marine sniper — transferred to the Naval Investigative Service (the predecessor to the modern NCIS) to become the field team leader of the organization, a position he held for the better part of two decades.

Investigating Marine and Naval-related crimes across the country from murder to fraud to international espionage, Gibbs is a master interrogator driven to punish the guilty and see justice done. He not only leads the NCIS team but serves as the stern but fair mentor to his squad. The "NCIS" audience had few guarantees, but one that was rock solid for many years was that Gibbs would get his man, one way or another.

That insatiable drive for justice was honed by several devastating moments in Gibbs' life. A series of past losses ultimately forged him into a driven, relentless investigator. Here are some of the tragic events of Gibbs' backstory that shaped him into the man we know and love.

Gibbs suffered a series of devastating losses

Born in Stillwater, Pennsylvania, Gibbs had a quiet childhood until tragedy struck his mother. Ann Gibbs (Clare Carey) committed suicide by intentionally overdosing on drugs. While she had done so to spare Gibbs and his father Jackson (Ralph Waite) from watching her die of terminal cancer, the act would leave Gibbs devastated, and it destroyed the relationship between father and son. It would be decades before the two men spoke regularly. Shortly after graduating high school Gibbs would enlist with the Marines. Less than a year after his enlistment, he lost a close friend in a helicopter crash near the naval base at Okinawa.

These wounds would heal as Gibbs became a military police officer and began dating a young woman named Shannon Fielding (Darby Stanchfield). The two met in Stillwater, and Gibbs had stayed in touch, and the pair fell in love and eventually got married. Two years later, they had a daughter, Kelly Gibbs (Mary Mouser).

But the happiness didn't last. While Gibbs was away fighting in Operation Desert Storm, Shannon witnessed the murder of a fellow Marine by drug cartel leader Pedro Hernandez (Thomas Rosales Jr.). Despite the danger to herself and Kelly, Shannon chose to testify in the case against Hernandez. As the pair were being taken to a safe house by NCIS agents, their car was attacked and crashed, which killed both of them.

Gibbs is a haunted man

The loss of his wife and daughter absolutely devastated Gibbs, and while he would eventually have his revenge on Hernandez (he killed him), he dealt with the pain of their deaths for years. The loss of his mother cut deep enough, but compounded with his wife and daughter's murders, he became a much more taciturn and closed-off man who was less willing to let others get close. Gibbs would be inspired by Agent Michael Franks (Muse Watson), the NCIS agent who investigated the death of Shannon and Kelly to join the NCIS proper. Franks himself would act as Gibbs' mentor, teaching the younger man everything he knew.

Gibbs is a man haunted by his past, but where others would have allowed the despair of such tragedies to break them, he instead moved through the pain of each loss and became stronger for it. Those experiences, horrific as they were, helped make him into the force for justice fans know, and many people in the world of "NCIS" owe their lives to Gibbs and his team.