“It started with a tree and grew from there.” A perfect, purple crabapple tree, to be more specific. And it’s surrounded by beautiful flowers, …
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“It started with a tree and grew from there.”
A perfect, purple crabapple tree, to be more specific. And it’s
surrounded by beautiful flowers, a bench and a plaque honoring the
memory of David King, a Highlands Ranch High School junior who was
lost last fall because of something that has become all too
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year
olds in America, and it is seen as one of the most preventable.
That’s why parents, students and schools are stepping in with more
frequency and bringing a taboo subject into the light.
King’s mother, Sheri Cole, carries the torch for her son. She
established the local version of the South Metro Out of the
Darkness Walk, an event scheduled for Sept. 11 at Highlands Ranch
High School that is meant to call attention to the alarming
Douglas County has been significantly impacted by suicide in
recent years. In late 2008, three high school students in the
district committed suicide in the same manner within a 24-hour
period. Police never found a connection between the cases.
The community was shocked again when a 12-year-old girl took her
own life last fall. And earlier this year, after a young college
student died of alcohol poisoning, his sister took her life,
followed a few months later by their mother.
That mother was part of Cole’s survivor support group and had
joined the Out of the Darkness walk committee to help her out. Cole
was devastated by the news, and it is one more person who will be
remembered during this year’s inaugural event, which has already
raised more than $24,000 in donations and has 350 people signed up
The idea for the walk began when Cole began assembling the
pieces of the David James King Memorial Garden, an area of
Timberline Park dedicated to the 16-year-old who took his life last
September. Cole received help from the Highlands Ranch Metro
District, as well as some of David’s closest friends.
“I’m so grateful to them. They’re my lifeline,” she said. “They
have been struggling as well.”
Creating the memorial garden and organizing the Out of the
Darkness walk has been both difficult and therapeutic for Cole. It
brings back memories of her son, a gregarious teen with a buoyant
attitude and infectious smile. But she refuses to let his name be
forgotten, or allow his death to be in vain.
Cole, along with officials with the Douglas County School
District’s health and wellness department, have combined their
efforts to bring the subject of suicide to the forefront.
“We are being proactive,” said Michelle Tripp, a communications
specialist for the district. “The main point is to start the
conversation early with kids. That’s the biggest preventative
Beginning in 2008, eighth-grade students began learning suicide
prevention and intervention tips in Douglas County schools, and
that is expected to expand. Highlands Ranch High School, in
observance of National Suicide Awareness Week Sept. 5-12 and in
honor of King, has implemented new curriculum to address the issue.
The “More than Sad” program, which includes an instructional DVD
set for kids and teachers, will be shown in classrooms and provide
applied suicide intervention skills training for parents, staff and
“Talking about suicide is the first step in preventing a
tragedy,” says Leslie Clemensen, student wellness coordinator for
the school district. “There are warning signs and the district
wants to ensure that parents and educators have the tools to start
the conversation and keep an open line of communication with their
Cole says taking care of the brain, the most powerful and
complex organ in the body, is essential to preventing suicide
attempts. Roughly 90 percent of suicide victims have some form of
depression that clinicians believe they can treat. Instead of
ignoring a topic that no one wants to discuss, the intent is to
make people talk about it. Cole, who has appeared recently on
Denver news and radio programs to share her story and promote
suicide education, has made it her personal goal to implement
suicide intervention curriculum into schools statewide.
“We don’t understand what we don’t know,” she says. “I felt
helpless when I first lost David.”
Cole’s drive to organize the walk inspired others who have been
affected by suicide. She began visiting the American Foundation for
Suicide Prevention website and attended the annual National
Survivors of Suicide Day conference through AFSP.
“I learned about the walks and had already talked about planting
a tree, and it grew into this,” said Cole, adding she has had the
help of a 10-member committee.
Participants in the walk, which already has 30 teams signed up,
are encouraged to bring a photo of the loved one they lost.
Solidarity and shared experiences have brought survivors together,
and Cole has found a survivor support group invaluable.
The school district has added several pages to its website that
provide parents and students with the ability to talk with suicidal
friends or family members, and the tools to recognize warning signs
“We’re raising the bar on losing the stigma,” she said. “We need
awareness and people need to know, where do you go for help?“
Administrators with Highlands Ranch High School have expressed
interest in making the Out of the Darkness walk an annual event,
and Cole says that even though this would have been her son’s
graduation year, she is in it for the long haul. She is hoping the
walk will be an “end to a means and a means to an end.”
When asked what her son might think of her tireless efforts in
his name, she says, “I think David would be saying, ’way to go,
mom,’” she said.
To donate or sign up for the free walk, visit www.outofthedarkness.org. Go
to the Douglas County School District website at www.dcsdk12.org or the American
Foundation for Suicide Prevention at www.afsp.org for more tips on suicide
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