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Preventing Suicide

MARYSVILLE On Jan. 23, 2003, Lisa Patton was driving to Marysville from what was then her home in California.

Patton was moving back home, she said, to be with her family, especially brother Chris Miller. On the drive up, she got a call from her mother.

At the age of 23, Miller was dead. He had committed suicide, shooting himself in the head with his father and another brother sitting in the next room of their home in Leavenworth.

"I just kept telling her (her mother) to shut up, that it couldn't be true," Patton said. "It was just so surreal."

In addition to his parents and three siblings, Miller also left behind a young daughter and a son, a son the family didn't know existed until after the suicide. And five years later, Patton still feels the sting and pain from Miller's death.

"There are some days I wake up and I just miss him so much," she said.

To honor her brother and help bring attention to the problem of suicide, Patton will be one of close to 200 volunteers helping organize and run an overnight fundraising walk June 21-22 in Seattle.

Billed as the "Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk," the event is being sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In total, some 1,200 persons have pre-registered to take part in the walk, according to foundation Executive Director Robert Gebbia.

Gebbia said the group has done smaller events in Seattle, but nothing on this scale. He added the upcoming walk is only the fifth overnight event held by the foundation nationally.

"The idea is really to bring attention and awareness to the problem of suicide," Gebbia said.

The foundation reports some 32,000 deaths occur through suicide nationally each year. In Washington, there are roughly 800 reported suicides annually, which among the 50 states, is one of the highest rates in the country, according to Gebbia. That's one reason the foundation targeted Seattle for a major walk, with one of the aims being to create a local chapter of the foundation.

For Patton, the walk represents a chance to interact with others who have suffered the same pain as she and her family.

"I think it's important for people to band together and know they are not alone," she said.

Patton described her brother, a graduate of Marysville-Pilchuck High School, as a smart, out-going type. Eventually, he joined the Army Reserves and graduated from boot camp not long before his death.

"He seemed happy, he had a good job," Patton said.

Nevertheless, something seemed to change in her brother very abruptly, Patton said.

"It was like somebody flipped a switch," she added.

Patton said Miller tried to kill himself five times in the year before he died. Each time, he attempted to overdose on some drug or another, but then called someone for help. Ultimately, according to his sister, he was diagnosed as being bipolar and suffering from manic depression.

"He would go off and on his medication," Patton said, adding her brother told her he didn't like the pills "because they made him feel nothing."

While Miller had grown up and was living in Marysville, he decided just prior to his death to move to Leavenworth and live with his father and brother. Patton said her father kept a shotgun in the house, but didn't have any ammunition for it, adding Miller must have gone out and specifically bought the shell that killed him.

"He just said he was going to take a nap," Patton said Miller told his father. He went into his room and the next sound her father heard was the gun blast, Patton said.

"I can't even imagine having been there when it happened," Patton added.

Patton doesn't believe she ever will completely recover from Miller's death. She admitted questions about why Miller did what he did probably can never be answered. She talked about taking a family picture after moving back to Marysville, but then couldn't put it up in her home because Miller wasn't in it.

"For the first time in five years, this year, I celebrated Christmas," Patton said, now a wife and mother. "I just find holidays tough to do."

While Patton obviously is willing to talk about her brother's death, she said most of her family isn't.

"My mom still today, every day, has a hard time dealing with it," Patton said. "It's just a very touchy subject."

Nevertheless, Patton said her sister also has signed up to be a volunteer for the coming walk. Gebbia said most of those involved in the event have been touched by suicide, or even tried it themselves. He added the "Out of the Darkness" name for the walk was not accidental.

"The symbolism was given a lot of thought," Gebbia said. "There's so much stigma surrounding suicide. People just don't talk about it."

By founding a local chapter of the national foundation here, Gebbia obviously hopes to heighten awareness of the problem locally. He wants to put together a Seattle board that can plan events geared towards this area, but also, and perhaps more importantly, set up educational, prevention and survivor programs.

"Suicide takes just a terrible toll on family, friends," Gebbia said.

To help support the coming walk or for more information, call the foundation at 888-333-2377 or visit their Web site at www.afsp.org.

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