Suicide stalks Utah youths

Provo group targets the 'hush-hush killer'

Published: Thursday, March 6 2003 10:43 a.m. MST

The three days before Tuesday, May 15, 2001, were typical for 16-year-old Kasey Hone.

He went bowling with a friend on Saturday night.

On Sunday, Mother's Day, he attended church, visited an elderly woman with a church leader and went to his grandparents' home per family tradition.

Monday evening he helped his family plant flowers for Payson city, went out for ice cream and fertilized the lawn.

But on Tuesday, after school and dinner, while the rest of his family was gone, Kasey Hone locked himself in his room, turned on some heavy metal music and fired a bullet into his head.

A note read, "Don't blame anyone but me."

Loneliness is a mug

A long hour of loneliness

Is an empty mug of cocoa.

Once full and warm

Now empty and cold

And dark at the bottom.

Where are all my friends

To share a warm drink?

Their gone out to play

On this cold winter day.

It's dark.

Kasey Hone


Greg Hudnall has known many Kasey Hones. Too many. In his 20 years as an educator, the Provo School District student services director tearfully estimates there have been some 50 funerals for Provo students who killed themselves. He has attended at least 20 and spoken at several.

"We don't want to lose another child in our community," he said.

That desire helped spur Utah County's first coordinated suicide-prevention

program last fall. Using the acronym for hold on, persuade, empower, the HOPE task force held its first public meeting in January and will put on a daylong conference on April 12 at Brigham Young University. Rick Birkel, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, will be the keynote speaker.

The Provo School District and Provo city started the project but soon expanded it countywide with help from more than 30 sponsors, including churches, state agencies and civic groups.

"Some would say, 'Is this a problem in Provo? Is this a problem in Utah? Is this a problem in America?' " said Provo Mayor Lewis Billings. "Yes it is."

Nine students, including one elementary-schooler in the Provo district, one of the Wasatch Front's smallest, committed suicide over the past five years. Another 300 tried.

Utah County's suicide rate for 10- to 19-year-olds over the three-year period from 1999 to 2001 is about the same as the statewide rate, according to statistics gleaned from the Utah Department of Health database.

But taking the year 2001 alone, Utah County's 8.29 deaths per 100,000 population slightly exceeds the 7.66 rate for the state.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Utah males ages 14 to 24. The fastest-growing age group attempting suicide is 10- to 14-year-olds.

"The thing that troubles me most is the amount of children (under age 13) we're talking about," said Cindy Lee, clinical director at the BYU Family Support and Treatment Center. "It says how much at risk our children and our youth are."

For many years, suicide was one of those hush-hush subjects. Not anymore. Those trying to prevent it say one of the best ways is to be open about it.

"Our desire is to inform people rather than keep this the big dark secret that nobody wants to talk about," said the Rev. Dean Jackson of Rock Canyon Assembly of God. "This is not some kind of witch hunt to scare people."

Dian Olsen, who heads a suicide-prevention program in Davis County, said she almost needs a captive audience to get adults to listen.

"Probably the hardest thing is reaching parents with the message," she said. "Most people think that's not something they'll have to worry about."

About 90 percent of children who take their own lives are mentally ill, and 75 percent have a juvenile court record, said Kenneth Tuttle, director of psychiatric services at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. Other factors include drug and alcohol use, trouble at school, hostility at home and loneliness.

Dr. Doug Gray, who heads the Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic at the University of Utah, studied the families of 49 children who committed suicide. Despite showing signs of mental illness, none was on medication or in therapy.

Gray discovered barriers such as the stigma attached to psychoses, denial of an illness and an unwillingness to see a psychiatrist.

"They didn't think therapy would help," he said. "And that's absolutely untrue."

Medications and therapies have greatly improved the past five years, he said.


Mike and Stacy Hone didn't see Kasey's death coming. Neither did their four other children or Kasey's friends. He didn't tell a soul he was contemplating suicide.

From the horrific moment they found their son, the Hones had one agonizing word echoing in their minds: Why?

Why didn't we see it coming? Why didn't he ask for help? Why didn't he come to me? Why did he do this? Why wasn't our love enough to keep him here? Why?

"After they die, you put all these little subtle pieces together and try to figure out what was going on in that little mind," Stacy Hone said.

The distraught mother pored over Kasey's school notebooks, prayed, questioned teachers and friends and searched Web sites for clues. A school progress report found in his pants pocket the day he died showed an F in geometry and a D in chemistry. She looked for answers in his poetry. She concluded her son suffered from untreated depression.

Hone doesn't mind talking about her experience because she doesn't want other parents to be caught unaware.

I am kind.

All cool people like me.

Super at math

Expert at reading

Young and cool.

— Kasey Hone


Kasey's withdrawal happened subtly, somewhere between the sixth and 10th grades.

The mischievous little boy nicknamed Tigger slowly lost the bounce in his step. The Halloween pranks stopped. No more pouring salt in the punch. His countenance turned from bright to solemn. He didn't think he was cool anymore.

School became tougher. He lost interest in Scouts and church. He kept to himself. He sometimes slept in his clothes. He preferred to stay home rather than go out with friends. He even resisted family vacations. He became irritable, ornery, pessimistic.

The Hones noticed the changes but thought it was Kasey just being a teenager.

It wasn't drugs or alcohol. He wasn't a user. He wasn't a troublemaker. Some of his rock music, the Hones discovered later, carried dark themes and suicidal messages.

"I believe the music was his drug," Stacy Hone said. "That helped him carry out what he did."

Kasey

Lazy, skinny, intelligent and dependable

Son of Mike and Stacy Hone

Lover of motorcycles, music and money

Who feels restricted, useless, and OK

Who needs a Dodge Viper, a Pepsi

And a Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich Combo

Who fears spiders, rejection and the future

Who gives his opinion, respect and attention

Who would like to see the future, the past and Mars

Resident of Payson

Hone

— Kasey Hone

Looking back, Stacy Hone sees some cryptic messages in the biographical poem he wrote. The feeling of uselessness, his fear of rejection and the future.

The night Kasey died, his two sisters were outside crying, "Why, Kasey? Why?"

Stacy Hone put her arms around them and said, "He was just too lonely."


E-MAIL: romboy@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS