Mom on a mission to curb teen suicides
Seldom has a day passed that Vicki Buehler doesn't question what more or what else she could have done to prevent her son's suicide.
At age 15, Rocky Mendoza took his own life. The Spearfish High School sophomore suffered from depression and even told his mom at one point that the Prozac he had been prescribed wasn't working.
"He was an average kid. He had a big heart and was very compassionate," she said. "He stuck up for the underdog."
Rocky was living with his dad the night he called his mother in December 2009 to talk about problems he was facing, when the conversation suddenly ended.
"I tried calling back, and I couldn't reach him," she said.
So, she went to see him but received a call about a quarter of a mile from her destination from a family friend saying that Rocky had shot himself.
"I equate it to a tsunami," Buehler said of her emotions upon hearing the news. "You can't breathe. You can't come to the surface. You are lost in confusion."
The confusion turned to inconsolable grief. Buehler sought some way of dealing with it.
Just a day after what would have been Rocky's 16th birthday, a devastating earthquake rocked Haiti. Buehler was struck by news accounts of the suffering. She wanted to offer her help to those in need, so she signed up to go on a mission trip with Spearfish's Countryside Church to Haiti that April.
"I put my focus on helping others," she said.
After the Haiti experience, Buehler embarked on a journey to find out what she could do to help others avoid the devastation of a loved one's suicide.
Rocky died Dec. 29, 2009. Within the next five months, two other Spearfish High School students also took their lives.
"When I returned home seven months later, I found a hurting community," she said. "I don't know why they (youth) are in such pain that they are taking their lives. It's shameful."
Buehler says she is not out to assign blame.
"Kids need an outlet to talk about this," she said. "They don't want handouts and lectures; they want to talk and share. When they come crying for help and we don't give it, they won't come again."
Buehler and others hope to promote awareness, compassion and healing by participating in the annual Front Porch Coalition Suicide Awareness Walk on Saturday in Rapid City.
Stephanie Schweitzer Dixon, the community services director for Front Porch Coalition, said the annual walk is a chance for survivors to walk in memory of someone they lost while helping to raise awareness.
"There's lots of talking and sharing," Schweitzer Dixon said of the participants.
She said she hopes this year's walk will help raise nearly $10,000, which will be for the coalition's programs and services.
"We've done a lot of education and training, and we're beginning to see a shift in attitude," she said of the group's work.
There were 29 suicides in Pennington County in 2010, with the majority of the deaths being males with a history of alcohol addiction. Suicide is the No. 2 killer of teens and young adults and has moved from the No. 9 to the No. 6 killer of people of all ages in South Dakota.
Buehler said she hopes to encourage more open dialogue about suicide. She is planning a fundraiser Life Walk Memorial Day weekend at Spearfish.
"I urge everyone to keep our hearts and minds open as we seek to heal and prevent more of the same," she said.
Buehler said the powerful emotions that gripped her 17 months ago upon hearing of her son's death have subsided somewhat.
"Every once in awhile, a tsunami lets you up to breathe," she said. "It's in helping others that I get through."