Residents Battle Suicidal Thoughts

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Courtesy photo

This was the last photo taken of Austin Moffett (fifth from the left, back row) before he took his life in August. Austin’s family posed with Austin during a birthday party at Kohl’s Ranch. (From left) Lauree Moffett, Barry Moffett, Amber Moffett, Sydni Moffett, Austin, April Ray and Ammecy Ray.

Austin Moffett loved skateboarding, the outdoors and most of all his family; however, after various setbacks, Moffett gave up on life and killed himself in August 2009. Before, he did, Moffett reached out to friends, but no one took his pleas seriously.

The night he took his life, Moffett texted a friend he was “going to do it” but it took that friend three hours to check up on Moffett and when he finally did, he found Moffett hanging in the garage.

If someone had taken Moffett’s threats seriously and told someone, he might still be here.

Just over the holiday weekend, three people attempted suicide and another three threatened to in Payson, said Sgt. Don Kasl.

Like so many people battling depression and suicidal thoughts, Moffett, 21, took his life when he was just starting to turn things around.

After his release from jail he moved to Arizona to be closer to family, was looking for a job and was excited about a fresh start. After 10 months in Payson, he did not receive support from the probation department, his mother said. He also got rearrested several times for minor offenses and was abusing various substances.

Regardless, Moffett’s mother, Lauree Moffett, and sister, Amber Moffett, say Moffett wanted to succeed and was excited for the future. So what would drive a 21-year-old to hang himself and why didn’t anyone see it coming?

Lauree and Amber say they did not see Moffett’s suicide coming, but his friends got several warning signs including a text message and an earlier failed attempt. They hope telling their story will raise awareness about an issue rarely discussed, but desperately needed.

So far for this year, the Payson Police Department has responded to 10 suicides, 39 attempts and 72 threats.

Just in the last weekend, three people attempted suicide and three made threats, Kasl said.

Nanci Stone, vice president of Rim Guidance Center, which provides behavioral health services to residents in Northern Gila County, said a lot of people who commit suicide do so when they are just beginning to feel better because they have the energy to go through with it. Ironically, when someone is really depressed, they often lack the energy to plan their own death, she said.

Since “it is very unpredictable,” when someone will commit suicide, Stone said any threats or comments of suicide should be taken seriously.

“Suicide doesn’t have a type, any person at any time who says they are thinking of harming themselves needs to be taken seriously,” Stone said.

In Moffett’s case, he had reached out to friends, but no one took his pleas seriously.

A week before he hung himself in a friend’s garage, several of Moffett’s friends and his girlfriend interrupted his first attempt. Although they successfully talked him out of it then, they told no one about the incident. Then on the night that he hung himself, Moffett texted a friend to say he was going to kill himself. Three hours after getting that text, his friend showed up to check on Moffett, but he was already dead.

The Northern Gila County medical examiner said often families and friends do not see the signs of suicide until it is too late.

“The signs may be there, but people ignore them,” he said.

Looking back, Lauree said she still does not see the signs leading up to her son’s death.

In November 2008, he moved to Payson after being released from a Kansas jail, and was working at Lauree’s workplace, Kohl’s Ranch.

However, after arriving in Payson, Moffett got in trouble with the law again for “petty crimes,” was living at various friends’ homes, had no car and was struggling to make court payments, Amber said.

Both Lauree and Amber admit Moffett had low self-esteem and struggled with substance abuse, but “he was someone worth salvaging,” they said. He was caught in “a vicious cycle.” Amber partly blames his substance abuse for his mental state the night he killed himself.

“He wanted a family and wanted to give everyone else the best,” Amber said. “He tried to make everyone happy and didn’t want to see them struggle.”

Amber said she talked with her brother hours before he hung himself and he gave no indication what he was going to do. Looking back now, she wishes Moffett had known it was OK to express his feelings.

Stone said it is crucial when someone begins to feel suicidal to talk to someone right away.

“When someone is suicidal, there are three critical things; they feel hopeless that things will not get better, hapless that they can’t do anything right and helpless that they do not know where to turn; however, those feelings pass,” Stone said.

The medical examiner pointed out there are at least five counselors in town available for help and various churches have members trained to deal with crises.

“Our job is to show them they have options,” Stone said. “We are here to help.”

Rim Guidance Center operates a 24-hour crisis line, (928) 474-3303, and counselors are available every day.

In early December, Lauree and Amber along with friends and family participated in the 2009 Out of the Darkness community walk in Phoenix to prevent suicide. They hope to start a suicide prevention walk in Payson. For more information on Out of the Darkness, visit www.outofthedarkness.org.

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