Teen Suicide: Hidden Pain, Tragic Action Part 1

Sydney Sanders
Sydney Sanders

RICHMOND HILL, GA (WTOC) - What would drive a 14-year-old girl to take her own life?

It's a question for which the entire Richmond Hill community wants an answer.

Suicide is not easy to deal with. It's almost taboo for some families to talk about. For some, suicide is a dirty word.

The reality is suicide is the third highest cause of death in teenagers. But what is the reason? Depression, hopelessness, fear of disappointment, peer pressure, bullying?

Three weeks ago, 14-year-old Sydney Sanders took her own life. To hear the words of those who knew her best illustrates how secret pain and desperation can be.

"She was a beautiful young lady. She had a lot of God-given gifts. Well liked. Popular," Shawn Morrissey told WTOC.

"She was always smiling. She was always very rambunctious," said Jana Books.

"You couldn't be upset around her. She was always in a great mood," said her boyfriend 17-year-old Hunter Hadley.

"When she walked into a room, she lit it up. She had a smile that was so amazing," Elaine Carter said.

"She just knew the exact right thing to say to make you feel better," 14-year-old Byron Vick said.

These people loved Sydney.

"She was laughing constantly. She thought everything was funny, even stuff that wasn't funny was funny," Vick said.

Vick was one of her closest friends.

"I did see a change from when we were little to when we got older but I just thought everybody changed. I changed. Everybody changed," he said.

Jana Books and Brig. Cmdr. Shawn Morrissey each knew Sydney since she was 3 years old. Morrissey was her first softball coach.

"I just remember she had a zeal for life. An energy that just attracted people," he said.

"She was fun. She was always real happy," Books said.

Hadley was her high school boyfriend. "She was in pain and she didn't show it and she didn't show her emotions and thought what she did was the best thing to keep her from hurting," Hadley said.

What she did, none of these people ever suspected. It all started Valentine's Day at her home in Richmond Hill. Sydney tried to end her life.

"She had her reasons for why she did it but she always told us she will never do it again because it hurt everyone she was close to," Hadley said.

"I talked to her many nights about it and you say, ok she's a lot better. You see her everyday. She's better. She does not want to do that," Vick said.

"Never would I expect it to happen again. No signs. Nothing. Just put a smile on every day," Hadley said.

"I didn't see any signs that she was going to do it again," Vick said.

"A lot of things effected her a few months ago that really brought her to a point that she was really down," Carter said.

Carter works with Sydney's mother, Laura Lane. Carter's son, now an adult, tried to commit suicide when he was a teenager.

"It was a difficult time because he was bullied for being heavy. So I have been through this, but my son survived. We got help for him. Got him to talk," she said. "There were no signs and then something happens. You just automatically believe it's not going to happen again because it was so strange it happened the first time. It's like, oh it's OK."

"She was getting help," Carter said about Sydney. "Laura was taking her to therapy and to church. And here we are."

On April 5, Lane found Sydney dead. She was hanging from an attic in her bedroom.

"[There were] a lot of hidden pains," Carter said.

"We were one of the first ones there. It was a long night," Books said.

"We all pray after the fact. We wish we saw that signal or that pain that made her feel like she had to do what she did," Morrissey said.

"I'm still trying to grip it. I wake up everyday. I want it to be a dream like it didn't happen. It's tough but it did and she's gone," Hadley said.

"My mom opened the door and she just had this look on her face and I said, what's wrong mom? She said Sydney is dead. I got up and I had gone through it before and at first I didn't cry or have emotion," Vick told WTOC. "Two or three hours passed, and it just hit me and I broke down."

Sydney's suicide devastated her family. Her mother, Laura, faced the nightmare of finding her daughter's body. Her 17-year-old sister, Caleigh, was the first person to discover Sydney's first attempt on her own life.

Sydney is not the first teen suicide. Sadly, she won't be the last. The speculation of why the homecoming queen, athlete, would end it all still draws questions, confusion and speculation.

"There had been some issues and rumors. I think bullying comes in different forms," Carter said. "There are things we don't understand. And a lot deeper than we can ever imagine."

"You have to something that makes you feel that way. Something on the inside that you don't show everybody else that's around you," Hadley said.

"It's hard to understand. We really don't know why she did it," Books said. "It's hard to explain to a child.

"It's eye opening. It's concerning," Morrissey said. "It's just a tragedy, just like it is for any child."

"Sometimes I think, why? Sometimes I don't want to know why. Sometimes I would rather leave it as I don't want to know why," Vick said. "And we'll never know why."

Over the next two days, we will try to understand. Only 30 percent of the time do teenagers leave a note or let someone know they plan on committing suicide.

On Wednesday night on THE News at 11, teen suicide expert Dr. Micah Reigner sheds some light on the shocking effects one teen suicide can have on a community.

"We do see pods or epidemics of suicide attempts," Reigner said. "A lot of kids heard about this and said they saw the light, might be something I want to do. Teenagers are very impressionable, although parents play a larger role than we give ourselves credit for."

Is your son or daughter thinking about suicide? How do you open up the lines of communication and what are the warning signs? We'll explore those answers at 11 p.m.

On Thursday night, Sydney Sander's mom and sister open up to WTOC about her death, the grief and what they want to do to raise suicide awareness.

If you think about suicide, or suspect someone you know or love is depressed and contemplating suicide, there is help. Immediately consult a physician. There are also suicide help lines, with 24 hour service. Those numbers are 1-800.999.9999,  1-800.273.8255 and 1-800.273.HELP.

For more information, go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

The Sanders family has set up a foundation in Sydney's memory, and are raising money to build and promote a teen suicide help center in Richmond Hill. Donations can be made to the Sydney Sanders Memorial Fund.

Thursday night, from 5 to 10 p.m., Love's Seafood will be holding a special Thursday evening sunset. They will be donating a portion of their proceeds to the fund, as well as accepting donations.

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