Chase Lowe was a normal seventh-grader at New Windsor Middle School, his stepmother Lori Barnard remembers. He was a Boy Scout. He played trombone in the school band. Sure, he was a little nerdy and not that into sports, she said, but he loved to build things.
"He loved origami, Legos," Lori said. "He could make anything out of anything."
It could be that Chase was bullied at school — Lori thinks he was, though Chase's father Darin Lowe is not so sure. It could have been an impulsive decision, something Darin said is common in other young people with Asperger's syndrome, like Chase.
Whatever the reason, Chase decided to end his own life Jan. 13.
Now Lori and Darin are on a mission to raise awareness around youth suicide and to increase support for those who have lost someone. They have formed a team — Team EPIC Chase — for the Sept. 13 Out of the Darkness Walk in Frederick, an event of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and will be holding fundraisers for the event in Carroll County throughout the summer.
Chase's mother is not yet ready to speak publicly about Chase, Darin said.
"Some people want to be private and that's OK, but we're not. We want to be able to be there for people when they need it, or at least get things more public so they know where to go," Darin said. "We want to put it in front of people so some will maybe Google and educate themselves. That's our goal."
On the evening of Friday, July 3, Team EPIC Chase will hold a fundraiser at the Mount Airy Lanes bowling alley.
"That one is $20 per person for tickets and you get two hours of bowling and shoe rental," she said. "The fireworks are in Mount Airy that night at the carnival grounds … You put the ticket in your car and you can stay in the parking lot and watch the fireworks and not have to deal with the traffic."
Another event, a painting for charity evening, is scheduled for Aug. 20 at Vanessa's Corner Pub in Taylorsville, according to Lori. More details are available on the Team EPIC Chase Facebook page, she said, and information on additional fundraising events will also be listed there as they are scheduled.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention holds more than 350 Out of the Darkness Walks across the country each year, according to CEO Robert Gebbia. Money raised goes to fund research, education and outreach programs, but he said the walks, in many ways, are the most important form of outreach the foundation engages in.
"Why it is important is because it is starting to raise more awareness … It gets people involved in the cause and they become activists and advocates," Gebbia said. "Because this has been such a taboo subject, when people ask other people to support them [in the walk], they are amazed that they raise the conversation about suicide and they find people who were also affected and they never knew it. It is really opening the discussion about suicide prevention and over and above the walk itself that has great benefits."
In Carroll County, there were 17 suicide deaths in 2012, according to the most recent data available from the Office of the State Medical Examiner. There were 21 Carroll suicides in 2011 and 17 such deaths in 2010.
"It's crazy, the amount of suicides that go unnoticed," Darin said.
It's also crazy, to Darin and Lori, how little support they could find for suicide survivors in Carroll County. They had hoped to find a support group of some sort for Chase's 8-year-old brother, Brendan, but while they found various programs dealing with grief, they couldn't find anything specifically dealing with suicide. They are now considering starting a group themselves.
"There is really not something specific for survivors of suicide in Carroll," said Dawn Brown, director of quality assurance and prevention at the Carroll County Health Department. "If these folks are interested in starting something, it would really fill an area of need. It would be really great."
Also important is bringing some form of suicide prevention training to Carroll that is specific to young people, said Brown, who has been teaching a free Mental Health First Aid course for adults at Carroll Community College. Later this month, the Health Department will be offering a similar class on the topic of mental health crises in young people.
"We will be offering our first youth course July 29 and July 30; two half days to help adults deal with youth in a mental health crisis," Brown said. "Learning the signs of suicide and self harm. What do you look for? What do you say to them?"
Sometimes, the signs of depression or suicidal thoughts in young people might be difficult to distinguish from adolescent angst, Brown said.
Parents might not know to look for signs because a child's suicide simply isn't something they consider within the realm of possibility.
"Quite honesty, I didn't know a 12-year-old knew what suicide was," Lori said. "If I had known he knew what that was, I probably would have talked to him more about that, but he was 12 — he was supposed to be outside talking about Simon Says."
When it comes to what he would recommend to other parents now, Darin said it's important to learn the signs of depression, but even more so to communicate. Signs can be missed or misinterpreted, and sometimes the only way to know for sure is to ask.
"Educate yourself, talk to your kids and talk directly to them about it. Don't tip-toe around it. It's better to bluntly put it right there in front of them," he said. "Get to know your kids and don't take anything lightly."