They came to cry, hug, laugh, share stories and remember loved ones who ended their own lives.
Beth Luse, Heidi Hallgarth and about 75 others participated in Saturday’s Out of the Darkness Walk at Pendleton Community Park. Luse and Hallgarth wore red, the favorite color of their brother Ryan “T” Toney, who killed himself in 2010.
The women described Ryan as a caring outdoorsman, wonderful father and music enthusiast who hid his despair behind a strong, masculine front. In a suicide note, Ryan confessed he believed his family was better off without him.
“He was in so much pain and no one knew,” said Jennifer Smith, Ryan’s aunt.
Luse said her brother’s suicide shattered friends and family.
“We were devastated,” Luse said. “If only he had realized how much love and support he had out there.”
The family stuck a sign with a photo of a smiling Ryan into the park lawn. The dozen-or-so who had traveled together from Elgin to Pendleton to honor him gathered around for a photo. The sign joined dozens bearing the names and photos of others lost.
Additional signs featured sobering statistics, such as “More than 38,000 Americans died by suicide in 2010” and “One person dies by suicide every 14 minutes of every day – about 105 each day in America.”
To kick off the walk, Tawny Righter, of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Oregon State Chapter, offered another disconcerting factoid.
“Our state is about 35 percent higher than the national average for suicide,” said Righter, who lost a son. “We don’t know why.”
The suicide prevention group is fighting back with proceeds from the walks. One project, interactive screening of college students, begins this year at the University of Oregon. Each student is emailed an interactive screening with questions to gauge stress and depression. The program has proved effective at other colleges.
“About 75 percent more students who would never have asked for help are now getting mental health care they didn’t realize they needed,” she said.
The walkers shared memories as they wended their way around the park.
Ian and James Halladay, 7 and 8, carried a sign bearing a photo of their uncle, Rodney Halladay and the words “We wish we could have known you.”
Rodney’s mother, Mary Kligel, and brother, Todd Halladay, walked behind. Kligel, of Pendleton, described her son as happy-go-lucky, a jokester who had numerous friends. The family, she said, was blindsided by his suicide at age 24 in 1992.
“It affected us like a train wreck,” she said. “The hardest part is wondering why.”
For Dee Snider, the sense of loss is even fresher. Her son Collin died at age 18 last December. Her husband Tim organized the walk.
“We don’t want any other parents to go through this,” Snider said, her voice breaking.
She said they will never know exactly what triggered their sunny, empathetic and kindhearted son to shoot himself.
“We can look back in hindsight and say this or that could have been a factor,” said Snider, adding they will never truly know.
The Pendleton walk is the fourth in the state this year and the first ever in eastern Oregon. Pendleton walkers collected about $4,300 in donations.
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0810.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.