At the annual community Out of the Darkness walk, more than 400 people gathered Sunday to remember those lost to suicide.
Attendees wore Mardi Gras beads as they walked from Memorial Stadium heading south into IU’s campus
The event was a community walk designed to foster suicide awareness and to help fund research into prevention and education, Jim Martinez, a member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said.
The goal was to raise $20,000, and AFSP raised $26,322 by Sunday afternoon.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 40,000 people die each year in the United States from suicide.
“The numbers are staggering,” Martinez said.
Families from some of those victims were at the community walk, including Regina Burns, a Bloomington native.
Burns wore white beads to represent the loss of a child to suicide.
Burns told the story of her 19-year-old son who died Dec. 9, 2011. Her son, Andi Burns, tested as a genius based on IQ testing when he was a child, Burns said.
Burns said her son wrote poetry and played instruments, and people loved being around him.
“He brought a smile to everyone’s face,” Burns said.
Burns’ mother, Andi’s grandmother, had a stroke only a day before Andi committed suicide.
Burns said she remembered coming home from the hospital to check on things when she found him. He had shot himself.
Burns said even after five years, she still feels a void in her life every day.
“As a mother, there is nothing worse,” Burns said. “It never gets better.”
Burns, a second grade teacher, said she used to think saying hello in the hallway was enough for young people. Now after the loss of her son, she makes sure to talk in depth with them.
David Ambrose, a junior at IU, said he lost a close friend last month to suicide.
Ambrose was wearing blue and purple beads representing suicide awareness and the loss of a relative or friend.
He said he lost his friend Austin Weirich last month. Weirich was a student and football player at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana.
Ambrose said Weirich had always been involved and a leader in different groups and that he was shocked when he learned that Weirich shot himself.
“You don’t think that can happen to someone so young,” Ambrose said.
The hardest part of getting past Weirich’s death was the fact that he would never get to say hello to him again, Ambrose said.
“You get to the day when it’s time to go home and just say goodbye for the last time,” he said.
Ambrose said people need to be more willing to talk about suicide and to have more events like the walk.
He said people just need to be willing to talk, to understand and to not judge people who may be considering suicide because you never know what people are thinking.
“You have to be someone that anyone can talk to,” Ambrose said.
A volunteer from Out of the Darkness, Melissa Hughes said she had known both friends and family who have suffered depression and committed suicide.
“It’s just near to my heart,” Hughes said.
Hughes is from Princeton, Indiana, and came to Bloomington to help with the walk. She had participated in her first suicide awareness walk only a week ago.
Hughes said until she had gone on that first walk that she had not understood the statistics and the scope of suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and the No. 1 cause of death in people ages 15-24, according to AFSP reports.
Hughes remembered a family friend whose 20-year-old son committed suicide.
The son, Nathan Lance, had two kids and was getting ready to marry the mother of his kids before he committed suicide. Only a few weeks before he died, his dad had died from cancer. Hughes said she was shocked by his death when it happened.
“Knowing him, we wouldn’t have ever expected it,” Hughes said.
Hughes said while Lance’s death was tragic, he did save four lives when his organs were donated to others.
His heart, liver, kidneys and intestines were all donated to people who lived because of Lance, Hughes said.
“It’s really hard for the family,” Hughes said. “But he saved lives.”
Burns said while she still has a void in her heart where her son used to be, she has tried to reach out to the community and to those who may be suffering silently. She and her family donate regularly to an alternative school in Ellettsville, Indiana, for that purpose, she said.
Burns said the issue of suicide awareness is an important one and if people want to change things they need to be the change and to be willing to reach out and talk about the issue at events like Out of the Darkness.
“We’re the change,” Burns said “We are the change.”