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Knowing the signs of suicide

Steve Ranson
sranson@lahontanvalleynews.com
Andrea Zeller, left, executive director of the Churchill Community Coalition, thanks Neale McPherson for his contribution of more than $1,000 for suicide awareness and prevention.
steve ranson / lvn |

The unexpected happened during Saturday’s fourth annual Walk in Memory, Walk in Hope, an event sponsored by the Churchill Community Coalition and the Nevada Coalition for Suicide Prevention.

Neale McPherson, like many in attendance at Laura Mills Park, revealed the hurt he once felt when learning from a text message of the death of a good high school friend and fellow athlete on the 4×400 relay team. Standing on the gazebo steps and looking toward a crowd of more than 100 people, McPherson talked of his friend and how successful he had become, but underneath the surface, McPherson said his friend was unhappy; consequently, he said his friend took his own life.

“His smile was hiding the pain,” McPherson said, his voice choking.

McPherson, a sailor with the Rotary Wing Weapons School at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center since 2014, took action. He set up a GoFundMe site on social media to raise money for suicide awareness and prevention.

“I wanted to support Churchill County because Churchill County and Fallon, in particular, are supportive of the military. I reached out to friends and family on Facebook and Twitter, and that’s how you get things done.”

In a shot period of time, McPherson received numerous donations. McPherson donated $938.36 from the GoFundMe site and $50 from the CPO mess, while he and his wife donated $40.

All the money will stay in Churchill County.

“I wanted to raise money for not only for suicide prevention, but I was also using social media for awareness. Awareness is one of the biggest problems for suicide … looking for signs, knowing what to look for,” he said.

This is the fourth annual rally in Fallon to bring suicide awareness to the Fallon community. Andrea Zeller, executive director of the Churchill Community Coalition, said the idea is for people to come together to address suicide.

“We need to watch out for each other on a daily basis,” she said.

Michelle Taylor, school liaison officer with Naval Air Station Fallon, said the school district recently received a social worker grant that will be able to identify and work with students who have thought of taking their lives. She said people cannot be afraid to talk about suicide.

“If you see something, do something about it,” she insisted, adding people must be proactive and not reactive.

The event featured both speakers and several events to include a three lap-walk around Laura Mills Park. Kathi Merrill, an administrative assistant with the coalition and also one of the organizers of Saturday’s walk, said 60 registered walkers signed up, and the event collected $1,648.35. Merrill said most people walked in memory of someone they new who either attempted or committed suicide.

Participants could either write a personal letter, write on a sign or wear color beads indicating for whom they were walking. Fallon’s event also coincided with World Suicide Prevention Day, and 14 Nevada cities participated.

Kristin Sheldon, outreach coordinator for the coalition, wrapped up the morning event with a poignant story of her own. She said suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and sixth in Nevada, thus resulting in 42,000 people who found no other way to deal with their situations.

Sheldon told the story of a friend she knew before moving to Fallon, Darin, who took his life on Sept. 24, 2004, would have celebrated his birthday on the same day of this year’s Walk in Memory, Walk in Hope. Sheldon said Darin was an athletic young man on the football team, captain of the basketball team and enrolled in honor classes. On the outside, Darin had everything going for him, but Sheldon said her friend suffered from depression.

When Darin had his 18th birthday, Sheldon said no one was seeing any warning signs. Darin tried to sell his belongings, told people he was moving to Australia and withdrew from his friends including Sheldon.

“On the night of Sept. 24, the night of a home football game, Darin took his own life,” Sheldon said.

The pain still remains for Sheldon. She said his parents were like second parents to her, and Darin and she shared the same teachers and friends and grew up in a community half the size of Fallon.

“I stand here … I don’t want another parent to have to help another parent pick out the clothes they have to bury their son in,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “It’s been 12 years since his death, and I think about him every day.”