Young, Gay and in Pain A 14-year-old boy’s despair over the fact that he was gay led to suicide, leaving friends and a loving family in shock — (The Florida Times-Union)

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The Florida Times-Union

April 21, 1997

Author: Eleanor Mallet, The Plain Dealer[]

CLEVELAND — Robbie Kirkland’s room is a jumble of stuff — notebooks, Nintendo games, acne medicine — typical of most 14-year-olds’ sanctuaries.  A play he wrote and a series of his drawings are in his trunk. In the closet is his overnight bag, which he used when visiting his father. Prominently displayed in his wallet is his father’s business card: John Kirkland, Special Agent FBI.

What is not apparent is evidence of his struggle. For more than a year, Robbie had become enveloped in depression over the fact that he was gay.

At age 14, he was in treacherous waters — how to keep his secret, or be who he was and face the scorn and rejection of others.   On the morning of Jan. 2, Robbie Kirkland ended his turmoil by shooting himself in the head in his father’s home in Lakewood, Ohio.

Those who knew Robbie are in shock, wondering what could have led him to suicide. He had a core of close friendships and a loving family. But he did not want to be gay and he dreaded discovery. He may have feared exposure at school because of a crush he had on a student.   At the same time, he had sexual curiosity which he explored, like many teens, on the Internet.

He was also mired in a deep well of hopelessness, self-loathing and isolation. He had a hard time seeing a future. “He closed himself off,” said his mother, Leslie Sadasivan. “He felt a hopelessness about leading a closeted life.”

Robbie grew up in the protected Cleveland suburb of Strongsville. He had two older sisters, Danielle, 19, and Claudia, 17, and a step-sister, Alexandria, 4. At the time Robbie was born, his parents separated, divorced and later the marriage was annulled by the Catholic church. Two years after the separation, Leslie, a nurse and a devout Catholic, married Peter Sadasivan.

Robbie’s father, John Kirkland, also remarried, then later divorced. He did not see Robbie at first. But as Robbie grew, his father spent time with him regularly, and the pair became closer. Despite the divorce, John and Leslie have worked together as parents.

Family members describe Robbie as different from the outset. He was especially close to Claudia. Growing up, the two would play with dolls and other make-believe games.

“He was a happy kid,” said Danielle, who is now a sophomore at Miami University. “He was talkative but always shy, in the family very loving. He was very close to Mom.”

Two years ago, Robbie began to change. In seventh grade, his mother said, Robbie came home after a basketball game and sobbed hysterically in his room. Someone had pushed him in the snow. Leslie Sadasivan is not sure of all that happened, but she looks back on the incident as a turning point, “some realization {by Robbie} that he was so different.”

The summer before that, when he was 12, he wrote poetry, some somber. One was called, I’m Dying and No One Cares. In his last year, “He became withdrawn,” said John Kirkland, who Robbie stayed with every other weekend. “It was tough to get him to do anything.”

Robbie was spiraling down. On Feb. 24, 1996, he swallowed 30 Tylenol. His mother did not know at the time that Robbie had attempted suicide, but discovered a note a month later.

The letter said in part: “Whatever you find, I’m not gay. I love Ashley. . . . You probably want to know why I killed myself. Cuz of all the s–I’ve had to go through recently. . . . Robbie Kirkland, the boy who told himself to put on a smile, shut up and pretend you’re happy: It didn’t work.”

“Robbie loved the Internet,” said a friend, Kadi Okress, 15, of Brunswick, Ohio. “He loved the chat rooms and role-playing,” she said.

On March 29, 1996, Robbie boarded a Greyhound bus for Chicago. In his bag was a man’s name and beeper number. He had planned to meet a man he had met on line. The number turned out not to be working.

He was found in less than 24 hours. A homeless man outside the bus station befriended him after Robbie asked him how to get to a teen shelter. The man flagged down a police car. John flew to Chicago and brought him back.

He began seeing a therapist. Robbie said he had tried to like a girl, but realized he couldn’t. He was gay. He said he had known since he was 10.   The therapist told Robbie’s parents that he was gay. His parents and sisters said they told Robbie they accepted him as he was and reassured him of their love. John Kirkland recalls his son once said to him, “You know I’m not gay.”  “I don’t care, Robbie,” John Kirkland said he replied. “You do drugs, you’ll have a big problem with me. But if you’re gay, I don’t care, I still love you.”

In December, he saw a psychiatrist who prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft. He began taking it two weeks before he died. The drug takes two to six weeks to take effect. In addition to lifting depression, Zoloft reduces suicidal thoughts, said Daniel Rapport, a psychiatrist and director of outpatient services at University Hospitals’ Mood Disorders program.

“We had a lovely Christmas,” Robbie’s mother said. New Year’s Eve, she went to bed early. The next morning, a mother of a classmate phoned asking why a call had been made to her home at 3 a.m. She had caller ID. Leslie asked Robbie about it. He called it a prank call. It was to the boy he had a crush on.

That afternoon, John picked Robbie up to take him to his house. Leslie went to work. She doesn’t remember saying goodbye.

The next morning, he shot himself in the head.

A suicide note was found in a notebook at his mother’s. “I am sorry for the pain I have put everyone through. . . . I hope I can find the peace I couldn’t find in life.”

Claudia feels Robbie’s sensitive, gentle personality did not equip him for his situation. “He was unhappy with the way he was. He felt too much pain. He did not let us help him..

“He was so analytical and intelligent,” said Danielle. “It was a real blow to him that this being gay was not something he could stop, that it was the reality of his life. He could not face the implications.”

Leslie Sadasivan, who sometimes goes in Robbie’s room at night and cries, is compelled to tell his story. “I feel so called to help all the other Robbies out there.”
Caption:
Photo; Newhouse News Service Photo: (c) 14-year-old Robbie Kirkland with his sisters last year at Christmas. Kirkland killed himself eight days later.
Edition:  CITY
Section:  FAMILY
Page:  B-1
Index Terms: homosexual; suicide
Record Number:  JFTU49266

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Young, Gay and in Pain A 14-year-old boy’s despair over the fact that he was gay led to suicide, leaving friends and a loving family in shock