Journalists make much of their living sifting data, studying documents, spotting trends and asking questions.
For years, data, documents, trends, tough answers to questions — even anecdotal evidence — pointed to an alarming reality: Wyoming had a suicide problem.
The Casper Star-Tribune newsroom had been discussing a suicide story project for at least the past couple of years but nothing ever came of it. Until today.
While reading our four-day series in advance this past week, I came to the conclusion that the newsroom staff had for a long time reacted to suicide much like those affected in many of our stories publishing today through Wednesday. Only when it hits home do you put down the societal taboos and finally take action.
In one of our stories, Cara and Craig Reichert of Dayton bravely share details about the suicide of their 17-year-old son, Kameron, on Dec. 10, 2008. The couple later learned Kameron had told friends he intended to take his life, but the friends didn’t take him seriously. Cara says she’s still not sure she and Craig would have taken the friends seriously had they relayed such information beforehand.
Today, Craig makes it a point to contact families that lose children to suicide.
“If you ever need to just talk to somebody that has lived through it, I won’t keep anything from you,” he says.
There’s also a story about a largely successful effort by Wind River Indian Reservation officials to curtail suicide by bringing back cultural and spiritual community events. Tribal officials have been called upon to help initiate such projects on other reservations.
On the morning of Jan. 21, suicide hit home in the Star-Tribune newsroom.
As each of us arrived to work, former Editor Chad Baldwin carried out his grim duty of informing individuals that southwestern Wyoming bureau reporter Jeff Gearino, based in Green River, had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound the night before. He was 54.
I had never known anyone who had committed suicide. Neither had many of my colleagues.
Jeff’s family had no clear answers as to why he would take his life.
Certainly none of us in Casper did.
So we talked in the newsroom. We talked a lot. We talked about Jeff’s tremendous sense of humor and spontaneity and his love of the Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos, Georgia Bulldogs and Wyoming Cowboys. We talked about our trips to the bowling alley with him during his rare appearances in Casper to attend meetings and training. Jeff may have loved bowling more than the Falcons, Broncos, Bulldogs and Cowboys combined.
Naturally, we considered what might have led him to commit suicide.
Ultimately, we will never know.
But if one suicide could bring a hard-charging newsroom to a standstill and force such contemplation, imagine how many similar discussions were being held in a state that consistently ranks among the top five nationally on a per-capita basis.
“That was the catalyst for getting this project done,” reporter Jackie Borchardt told me last week. “The extent of what we did before was just throwing it around.”
There are those who believe writing about and discussing suicide publicly only further encourages the act.
Data, documents, trends and tough answers suggest otherwise.
Gov. Matt Mead said it best in his powerful opening sentence in today’s Star-Tribune guest column: “We need to address suicide in our state.”
Contact Acting Editor Ron Gullberg at 307-266-0560 or email@example.com.
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