An Open Letter: Suicide

Most days I consider myself to be a happy person, but today I am sad. The kind of sadness you just can’t shake, that drains every bit of energy from you. Most of you know me even if only from seeing me in the hall at school, or at a basketball or football game. Others of you I have known since you were very small, but I have never told any of you how I feel about my job or about you. In fact I share little about my job even with my family, but today I’m going to tell you some of what I really think and how it affects me. I am going to be completely honest and bluntly open.

Yesterday for me was another day of dealing with death. Most of my night was spent on the scene of a particularly gruesome murder. Even though I did not know her, I could not help but feel for the family of this lovely woman: a mother, a wife, a business woman now lying on the floor, a mangled mess. I have dealt with death over and over and it never gets any easier. Lately they seem to weigh on me even more. The worst calls in my career have been the deaths or severe injuries to kids, teenagers and young adults. So later last night when the call went out for a suicide of a 17-year-old, the son of someone I know, I just couldn’t go. There were other officers and other supervisors that went and handled the call but I just didn’t want to see another suicide. I didn’t want another child’s face stuck in my memory. I knew there would be so much grief in that house. I have been there many times before on other calls in other homes, with parents in inconsolable grief, trying to comfort a 10 year old that just found the brother he looked up to hanging in his bedroom. I have been there while they die. In case you didn’t know, most suicides aren’t instant. They can be agonizing, painful deaths and I have been there when there is nothing you can do, but watch them die. I cannot describe the sadness of a young life lost. There have been too many. Even more, it seems, in the past year.

So why am I telling you this? Because while some teen suicides come after months or years of depression or mental illness, many others come in a moment. The victims are successful kids, “normal” kids, kids with so much going for them and yet in that moment they don’t see it.

Teenagers are amazing. They have grown past believing everything their parents say and they are not yet bound by experience. They are completely free to see the world in terms of possibilities without the burden of practicality, and because of this freedom, they are capable of great accomplishments and creativity. They can experience in extremes that defy the logic of a parent, even though we were once that way ourselves. Watch the joy on the face of a kid that just won a close football game, just scored a goal or made the winning basket. Imagine a shy boy that just asked a girl out and she said yes. Even the small things can bring great joy. Watch a teenage girl that just got complimented by her friend on her new dress. Her eyes get big, her smile gets wider and her whole face lights up. That is pure joy and it is beautiful.

This freedom and extreme of emotion can be a great gift, but it has two sides, and teenagers sink into grief and despair, they plummet. At times their reaction to a break up, an insult, a failure or stress of any kind can truly be extreme. As a parent we may think that they will get over it soon enough, and usually they will, but in that moment their grief and their pain are real and agonizing. They don’t see past it. If you have ever been extremely tired and hungry you know that you start to lose the ability to think as clearly as you could normally. Grief can bring that same faulty thinkinga��only worse. I think that this is the moment when some kids think that suicide is the way out. They are tired and frustrated and at the bottom of an emotional ride that no one understands. They have lost their logic and can’t see past their pain. This is when they need some way to escape’some way to say, “Enough.” For some of them, this moment has been building until they have finally reached their limit and for some it comes more suddenly. The question that has been on my mind is: In this moment, can we prevent a tragedy? I think perhaps we can. I hope we can.

What if you had an escape plan in advance? If you had someone you could call in that moment of despair who could step in and pull you out of that situation? Most kids think they have no one. They are arguing with their parents, or think they won’t understand. They don’t want to turn to their friends because they are embarrassed and they simply feel alone. But what they don’t see is how many people actually do care about them. If you know me, you have someone who will help you. And it’s not just me. You have a wonderful group of administrators at Rockville that truly care about helping kids. They are not working there to get richa��they are there because they like working with you. Every one of you has teachers that you like. You might have your 2nd grade soccer coach or the parent of a friend, an aunt or uncle or older cousin. There are adults in your life that would drop what they are doing and help you if they only knew you needed them. You are not bothering them. They would be honored that you respect them enough to turn to them for help. So I’m asking you right now to think of three or four adults that you can trust and put their numbers in your phone. And if you ever get to that moment when you need help, just call them. You are young, and if you are like the rest of us, you will make some poor choices in your life. But if you do and you find yourself in a bad situation, or you are scared and alone, you should have someone to call.

I don’t want to console your parents. I don’t want to visit you in the hospital. I have seen enough misery. I want to see you celebrate and find happiness in your life.


Sergeant Ed Shropshire