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Recent deaths prompt questions, community concern
This is the second story in a series that started in the April 14 edition of the Herald. - photo by File illustration
I don’t know the answers but I think having tools, information and it being talked about is important because suicide is real,
Toni Hardigree

RINCON — What do you do when you have lots of questions and none of them have answers?

Toni Hardigree found herself in that situation during a recent Rotary Club of Effingham County meeting. She decided to pray and asked club members to join her.

Hardigree sought divine assistance for some local suicide victims and their grieving families.

“(Suicide is) happening to younger and younger kids — whether it’s from bullying or not understanding the whole finality of it,” Hardigree said.

Effingham County Coroner David Exley said Effingham County typically suffers 8-10 suicides per year. There were three in March, he said.

“Three in that short of a span is kind of unusual,” Exley said.

Exley added that the recent suicide cases in the county were on the younger end of the spectrum. Two of the victims were in their twenties.

“It’s an uncommon trend for that to happen,” he said.

The coroner said suicides cases are equally sad regardless of the victims’ age.

“There are many different things that go with them,” he said. “Sometimes it’s children in school and younger people. Sometimes elderly people will do it because socioeconomics have really messed up their lives to where they are wondering — if they continue living — where and what will happen to them in the future.

“I’ve seen that happen — people up in their seventies who have no one to care for them. I’m not seeing those kinds of calls right now, though. I am seeing more younger people and you just don’t know what’s behind it.”

Hardigree mentioned a recent TV report about a 10-year-girl from outside Effingham County who took her own life.

“The mother said she didn’t think her daughter really understood what she was doing when she did it,” Hardigree said.

Hardigree believes feelings of isolation caused by COVID-19 restrictions are leading to suicides.

“I think in society a lot of  our kids are just not interacting as much as they used to,” she said. “They are not getting out of the house and playing. When you get behind a (video) game or a computer, you just don’t have interaction.

“I think that plays with people’s emotions and it’s so sad.”

Hardigree’s theory makes sense to Exley.

“I’ve wondered about that and the social stuff with it,” he said. “Everybody has kind of been isolated and stuff, and now they are starting to get out and do a little more. I don’t know all the social sets for it but it is a problem and showing an upward trend here in the last month especially.”

Herald General Manager Kim Dennis was deeply impacted by a high school classmate’s suicide early this month. Tears still fill her eyes every time she talks about it.

In one of his final Facebook posts, Dennis’ friend wrote, “If suicide ever crosses your mind, just know that I would rather listen to your story than attend your funeral.”

“He posted that on February 21,” she said.

Dennis has been unable to comprehend what happened.

“It’s the weirdest feeling,” she said. “It’s not something that I’ve felt before. It’s disbelief.

“When a friend called me in the middle of the night to tell me, I made her repeat herself several times because I just knew that I hadn’t heard her correctly because — in my mind — (suicide) isn’t something that he would consider.”

Dennis knew her friend had been diagnosed as clinically depressed.

“Still, suicide is beyond anything that I would have ever imaged because — when you think of a suicidal person — you think of someone who is desperate and down all the time,” she said. “You don’t think of someone who is cracking jokes with you the day before they commit suicide. It was literally just hours before he did it.”

Dennis has questions that will never be answered.

“I knew he was upset and had emotional days but I didn’t know how bad it was because he kept that hidden from a majority of people,” she said. “There were a few people who knew how bad it was.”

Dennis, Hardigree and Exley agree that everyone needs to heighten their suicide awareness.

“I don’t know the answers but I think having tools, information and it being talked about is important because suicide is real,” Hardigree said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The April 21 edition of The Herald will feature a story about suicide prevention. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.