In front of a gathered crowd at Highland Park in Washington, Tanner Kirk, a 16-year-old from Magna, rolled his wheelchair to center-stage and told the story behind his disability.
He suffers from dystonia, a result of coming out of a three-month coma after his suicide attempt in 2012. It causes his body to twist in repetitive movements beyond his control.
Kirk’s brain functions on the same level as his peers with a normal IQ, but he said his body seems to belong to someone else. He said his life has never been the same since his suicide attempt.
“I am trapped in hell,” Kirk said. “I can’t tell you why I put the rope around my neck.”
Suicide is not just a sensitive topic or a tragic ending — It’s an epidemic. Thus, many people from Utah have worked to bring awareness to the darkness.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness walk made its third visit to Washington County Saturday, raising $7,760 and drawing in 222 participants—its biggest year yet.
“I think as we take ownership and we’re willing to ask for help when we’re having a hard time, somebody will be there to reach their hand out to ours,” said Taryn Aiken, AFSP board member and co-chair. “We want people to understand that there is hope.”
Aiken is the driving force behind these walks. With the help of some students she taught at Paul Mitchell The School St. George, Aiken kick-started the Utah chapter of the AFSP.
“I lost my father to suicide 10 years ago,” Aiken said. “This has been a passion of mine ever since my dad died because there’s not enough information, not enough people talking about it, and not enough resources.”
The event staff had the fundraiser and auction tables set up at Highland Park in Washington by early sunrise. Participants lined up to register and received a sticker where they wrote the name of someone they had known who had taken their life: “I am walking for [insert name].”
Gathering among the desert red rock and crystal clear sky, the participants set a serene atmosphere in remembering the ones they had lost to suicide. Families, groups of high school students, and residents from every corner of the state mingled around the playground and shared the stories of loved ones they’d lost.
A handful of Dixie State University students attended the walk to share a common cause. Rachel Pinckney, a freshman general education major from Lehi, was one of them.
Pinckney said she was walking for Sydney Bruning, a friend from Pleasant Grove who committed suicide in February. A number of college and high school students wearing matching purple shirts with Sydney’s name on them came along with Pinckney in remembrance of their friend.
Miss Pleasant Grove Lauren Wilson honored Sydney in her opening speech.
“She was probably the most energetic, crazy girl I’ve ever met in my life,” Wilson said. “She’s one of those people who you never would have thought would take her own life. And so when she did, it was a complete shock to everybody around. But it made us a lot more aware of how big of an epidemic suicide is.”
Kirk had a different way of telling his story to the crowd due to his disability. He pushed buttons on the computer board in his lap as an older, modulated voice echoed over the sound system.
His computer-generated voice spoke a beautiful message to the crowd. He said after everything he’s been through, life is still worth living.
After the speeches concluded, Aiken took hold of Kirk’s wheelchair to lead the crowd along the 1-mile Crown King Trail that looped around the nearby neighborhood. At the top of the hill, one could look back and see the staggering number of people marching arm-in-arm together in light of one common goal: bringing awareness to the suicide epidemic and hope to those suffering.
Kirk’s closing statement hung above the crowd in a ringing truth as each person crossed the finish line: “Remember to be kind to yourself.”
Information on future suicide prevention walks can be found on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website and the Out of the Darkness Walks Facebook page.