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Patrick Springer, Published September 27 2010

Walk aims to shine light on suicide

Brent Herman wore a gray T-shirt emblazoned with the name of his friend Patrick Wilson, who took his own life last year.

The Moorhead man was one of an estimated 650 people gathered on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Fargo’s Lindenwood Park in a walk dedicated to bringing suicide out of the shadows.

“We knew he had depression problems,” Herman said of Wilson, an old friend going back to their years together at Moorhead High School. “But we never thought it would lead to what it did.”

The fundraising and public awareness walk was the fifth annual in Fargo for the North Dakota chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Many of those taking part in the walk wore shirts or held signs with photos and the names of friends or relatives who took their own lives.

The approximately 30 walkers remembering Patrick Wilson, who died before his 26th birthday, wore shirts with the image of a vintage snowmobile, which had been his passion.

“It’s just a mystery what was going through his mind,” Herman said. “Nobody expected it.”

Mary Weiler, the walk’s organizer, encouraged people to learn the warning signs of suicide “and have the courage to ask the hard questions” in an effort to prevent a friend or loved one from taking his or her life.

The Weiler family has been at the forefront of suicide prevention activism in North Dakota since their daughter, Jennifer Weiler, died from suicide in 2005.

The first “Out of the Darkness” walk in Fargo took place the next year, and now seven cities throughout North Dakota take part.

Michael Lamma, on the staff of the American Foundation for Suicide, said the fledgling North Dakota chapter has been recognized for outstanding work.

Studies have shown 90 percent of those who take their own lives suffer from some form of mental illness, he said.

“It’s not a sign of weakness,” Lamma added. “It’s a sign of illness.”

At the start of the walk, participants had collected pledges totaling $46,298. Last year in North Dakota, more than 1,775 people raised $115,000 for suicide prevention.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522