When 26-year-old Stevie Lee Fugate shot and killed himself on a Florida beach in 1999, he probably never thought it would trigger a crusade against suicide.
Stevie's father, Steve Fugate, has been on a crusade for the past four years.
In 2001, Fugate decided to walk across America. Now, he is walking around it.
Fugate began this most recent trek five months ago in his home state of Florida. He passed through Rim country recently and plans to continue north until he reaches Washington and Canada. After that, he will make his way to Maine, where he will begin the trip back home. He still has about a year to go before he completes the odyssey.
Fugate said his story reminds people of the memorable scenes in "Forrest Gump," a 1996 Academy Award-winning film starring Tom Hanks.
In it, Forrest runs across America several times. He says, "For no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run ... For no particular reason, I just kept on going."
But unlike Forrest, Fugate is running ---- or walking ---- for a cause: to spread awareness about suicide and the problems that today's youth faces.
His message is this: "You do not have the right to take your own life. It does not belong to just you," he said. "It belongs to your parents, friends and family. They have an investment in you and you don't have the right. I don't want parents to go through what I've gone through and I don't want kids to take their lives."
Before walking across America, Fugate said he tried several avenues to spread his message, but no one was listening.
"I tried mental health organizations, suicide awareness groups, churches," he said. "Nobody was paying attention to me so I decided to do it on my own ... A thought came to me to walk across America and I just couldn't get it out of my head. So I did it."
Images of Fugate on his 4,858-mile trip across America and on his current 11,000-mile voyage have been splashed across newspapers throughout the country.
Passers-by can't help but notice the odd appearance of Fugate, who sports weathered clothes and hauls a cart behind him carrying a state-of-the-art tent, sleeping mat, changes of clothes and toiletry items. High above his head is a sign that boldly reads "LOVE LIFE," on the front and back.
His medium-size figure has been made bone-thin by extensive walking. He wears glasses and has uneven teeth surrounded by gaps. His skin's dark brown color is made darker daily by the scorching Arizona sun.
Fugate said one of the luxuries he misses most is taking showers. He said that he keeps plenty of soap and deodorant supplies and brushes his teeth as often as he can.
Fugate admitted his crusade is rather unwise, but as long as suicide remains the third largest killer of people between the ages of 15 and 30, he said he's not worried.
"God takes care of babies and fools," he said. "I turned 57 last month, so you know which one I am."
Fugate tells the painful story to people he meets and local newspapers in an effort to get the message out that suicide leaves victims' families with "no worse pain that a human being can suffer."
"It's like having your heart cut out of your body with an axe while you're still breathing," he said.
Fugate said his son Stevie never recovered his self-respect after he caused a car accident while under the influence of alcohol.
"My beautiful 26-year-old son got it in his head that he had disappointed his father," he said. "My beautiful son went to the beach and shot himself, and he shot me right along with him ... For two months I cried and screamed and came face to face with myself and face to face with God."
The most recent addition to Fugate's quest is the Stevie Lee Fugate Foundation, a nonprofit organization trying to get on its feet. Once it does, it will introduce "young people to America's long-distance hiking trails."
Fugate called it "preventative maintenance." On the trails, young people would learn about nature and discover a new world, all in an effort to prevent them from turning to suicide when faced with difficulty.
In the meantime, Fugate said he will continue on his journey and deliver his message one person at a time.
"I'm a nobody. Nobody knows me," he said. "But I walked across America and that got me some attention. Now I am walking around America and that's getting more ... I'm trying to stop (suicide) a little bit just to save some lives."
To find out more about Fugate, his son or the foundation, visit the foundation's website at http://www.markhorner.com/steve/ fugate.html.