Lights bring out the many faces of suicide

October 09, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

It's been about seven months and the pain over her brother's suicide still is raw for Wanda Reichard.

Doug Carbaugh was 35 years old when he hanged himself March 2.

Reichard's story and others like it were the subject of readings at a candlelight vigil Wednesday at the Church of the Brethren on Fourth Street. The stories were written by surviving members of suicide victims.

Called Lights for Life Faces of Suicide, the stories appeared in a booklet prepared for the vigil. It was organized by the Mental Health Association of Franklin and Fulton Counties for the National Association for the Mentally Ill.

Readers included Franklin County Judge Carol Van Horn, County Commissioner Bob Thomas, Greater Chambersburg Area Chamber of Commerce President Dave Sciamanna, Chambersburg Police Chief Michael DeFrank, Wilson College President Lorna Duphiney Edmundson and Franklin County Commissioners President G. Warren Elliott.


Reichard blames schizophrenia for her brother's suicide. He was diagnosed with the disease when he was 28 or 29, she said.

"We knew it was coming," Reichard said before the vigil began Wednesday. "We could see the changes in Doug. He started hearing voices and he started to talk to them. He started to hallucinate."

She said medicine is available to control the disease, but her brother didn't believe he had it. He didn't take the medicine. He turned to drugs and alcohol instead.

"He did that to shut the voices off," Reichard said.

Kenneth Wuertenberg, director of the Mental Health Association of Franklin and Fulton Counties, led the discussion, saying that 750,000 Americans attempt suicide every year and more than 30,000 succeed.

"Every 18 minutes, someone takes his life," Wuertenberg said. "It's the eighth leading cause of death."

In 2000, 1,356 Pennsylvanians ended their lives by suicide. Between 1991 and 2002, 156 people committed suicide in Franklin County and 21 killed themselves in Fulton County.

Dana Boyer was a beautiful woman of 18 when she shot herself in January, said her aunt, Lynn Hostetler, an elementary school guidance counselor.

Boyer lived in the Johnstown, Pa., area, but she saw Hostetler and her husband as surrogate parents while she was attending classes at Shippensburg (Pa.) University. Even though they were cousins, Boyer was best friends with the Hostetler's daughter, Molly, Hostetler said.

Boyer got hooked on heroin, Hostetler said.

"Molly knew about it, but she promised not to say anything," she said.

When Boyer's family began to realize there was a problem, her mother took her aside and told her they both needed to talk.

"A half-hour later she took her own life," Hostetler said.

Hostetler said her niece's death prompted her to get involved in an effort to organize Enough is Enough, a support group for families whose members abuse drugs and alcohol.

In another letter, M. JoAnn Becker writes about her son, Tracey Joe Hockenberry, who killed himself at age 18 in 1987.

Hockenberry always dreamed of flying and was excited when, in his senior year of high school, he learned that he was accepted into the U.S. Army flight school.

Before he could go, he injured his foot and sustained internal injuries in a motorcycle accident. At about the same time, his mother wrote, Hockenberry rekindled a relationship with a girl in his class.

The Army ended up discharging him because of his foot. The relationship started to go bad, too, she wrote.

"He was so disappointed," his mother's letter said. "He then moved from home to a rented room for this girl. Then with the relationship being rocky and his dream of flying gone, he killed himself."

Becker said she remembered the week before her son's death.

"He was so quiet when he came to pick up his car after I had it fixed for him. This was Monday," his mother's letter said. "On Thursday night, he called and asked me what time he was born. On Friday night, he committed suicide."

For more information, call the MHA Mental Health Information Line at 1-866-593-8351 or crisis intervention services at 717-264-2555.

Warning signs of suicide

  • Verbal threats such as "you'd be better off without me."

  • Expressions of hopelessness.

  • Previous suicide attempts.

  • Daring and risk-taking behavior.

  • Personality changes (withdrawal, aggression, moodiness.)

  • Depression.

  • Giving away prized possessions.

  • Lack of interest in the future.
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