During an assembly Friday morning about suicide awareness and prevention in the Monroeville Athletic Complex, the Willard mother had senior and junior high students close their eyes and put their hands over their heart.
“It’s not just a heartbeat; it’s a purpose,” said Hershiser, whose son Caleb died April 2, 2017 from suicide at the age of 14.
“My son was bullied; he was brutally bullied to death,” she told the Monroeville students.
Caleb Hershiser told his friends, apparently in a joking fashion, “what he was going to do over the weekend,” his mother said, and “only one of those students told a teacher.” Anna Hershiser said that teacher thought the possibility of a suicide was simply a rumor.
Monroeville High School Principal Jim Kaczor, after the assembly, encouraged students to talk to a friend, parent, coach or teacher of they are having thoughts of suicide. He also stressed they should know plenty of people love and care for them.
Senior Ashlynn Legg, the daughter of Brian and Tammy, organized the assembly on her own initiative. She told students to speak to someone if they are feeling suicidal and if they’re not comfortable speaking to an administrator, then come to her and “I’ll help you the best that I can.”
“I thought it went very well,” said Legg, who saw students leave the assembly crying, presumably to speak to a staff member. “I hope it starts a domino effect.”
Kaczor said he is proud of the time and effort that Legg put into coordinating the event. The assembly included Hershiser, her son Dominic Cooper, Tracy Fox and her daughter Brittni Cooper as speakers. Fox’s son, Brandon, a 2014 Monroeville graduate, committed suicide Jan. 20 at home by shooting himself.
Junior Sam Waters said he was struck most by hearing the perspective of the parents and what they went through after their children’s suicides.
“I never knew how high the statistics were,” he added.
Willard resident Scott Barnett was scheduled to speak Friday, but was unable to attend. Legg shared Barnett’s PowerPoint presentation about his late daughter, whose family first noticed her depression at age 12. Julia Barnett committed suicide in May at age 13.
“She would talk about a darkness that would come down over (her) that she couldn’t control,” her father wrote.
Cooper said she thought she knew Brandon better than anyone else, but she didn’t see any signs her brother would commit suicide.
“He’s the best uncle my kids could have ever asked for,” she added.
Sharing how adversity is a way to challenge a person’s mental toughness, Fox said after her son’s suicide, she continually has wondered when “he decided it was easier to give up.”
“He never left a note; he didn’t explain why he did what he did,” the former Monroeville resident added. “What did I not see?”
Having struggled with depression for four or five years, senior Schyler Resor said “it’s eye-opening to get a parent’s perspective,” especially “what they go through if (a child) decides to go through” with committing suicide.
“Personally, I think it’s important to know it’s OK to come forward. It (suicide) does not have to be a taboo subject,” she added.