“SOMEONE IS MISSING’ — (The Fresno Bee)

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The Fresno Bee (CA)

May 2, 1999


The lonely sound of a basketball on concrete does it. So does seeing a teen-ager who looks like their son. Or the way some adults turn away when they see Betty and Ted Pryor in the store.   Unless you’ve buried a child who committed suicide, you can’t know the pain the Pryors feel: the sorrow surrounding any loved one’s death, the anguish of unanswered questions, the certainty that some people might pass critical judgment.”If Kurt had died in an accident, it would have been different,” said Betty Pryor, whose 15-year-old son shot himself a few days after school started in 1997. “But this was something he did to himself. There’s a stigma in a small town. People talk.”   Kurt’s stepfather, Ted Pryor, said, the death of a child creates a void that never can be filled. “I can’t take a family picture anymore. We have a hard time doing family things because someone is missing.”

Kurt had a typical, active childhood. Sports, science fair projects and things all kids do. But toward the end of eighth grade, said his mother, “he had odd behavior problems involving the destruction of property. As a freshman at Sanger High School, he got expelled for smoking marijuana.

“He couldn’t seem to express himself or show emotion. He got really sick and was throwing up,” his mother said.   Kurt received counseling for drug abuse and depression, went on Prozac and seemed to have a good summer.

But three days into his sophomore year, he got caught smoking on campus and was expelled. The next day, the Friday before Labor Day weekend, he baked a cake for his brother’s return from military service and prepared and served a spaghetti dinner for his family.

“I told Ted, “Something is wrong,’ ” said his mother. “It was like Kurt had no physical energy. He was just “out there.”   The next morning, Kurt got up and was ready to do yard work at his grandfather’s home. The family was going water-skiing afterward. But while he was alone at his grandfather’s house, Kurt slipped into a shed and shot himself in the head with a rifle.

“I do believe Kurt felt [by committing suicide] he was helping everyone,” said Betty Pryor. “He didn’t like to see me upset.”

At University Medical Center in Fresno, doctors kept his body alive, but could not save his brain. About 200 teen-age friends visited the hospital while he was on life support.   After Kurt died, friends called to share their feelings. But some adults were not as sensitive. “Word got back to me that some people were saying Kurt was in hell,” said Betty Pryor.

She wrestled with the same questions she knew others were asking: What had she done wrong? Why had she let her son out of her sight the day he took his life? She couldn’t sleep and suffered memory lapses.

Returning home after the funeral, Ted and Betty Pryor experienced something they have not been able to explain. As they were about to enter the house, she said, “we both smelled this unusual odor. It was like lilacs or roses. We both wondered, “How can something smell so good when things are so wrong?’

“We looked all over and tried to find what was in bloom. But we never smelled it again. I thought maybe it was Kurt. And that made me feel at peace.”