Standing on stage at the Forsyth Conference Center on Monday night, Krista Wagner bared the pain of her son’s death to crowds gathered to hear her speak.
“What I have to share with you is difficult,” she said. “But if I gently move over the details because it makes me uncomfortable, the killer suicide continues to win.
“Because it took my son, I am at war with this killer.”
Wagner, along with community leaders from Forsyth County and beyond, were gathered at the conference center on World Suicide Prevention Day for the second annual Forsyth County Suicide Prevention Summit to share stories, resources and messages of hope for the audience to take and touch others with.
After introductions by Forsyth County District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills and Walter Tisdale, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities spokesman, Wagner shared the story of her son’s death and the ripple effect it had on the entire local community from teachers at West Forsyth High School to other struggling families.
How to get help
The national suicide prevention hotline can be reached 24 hours per day at 1(800) 273-8255 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org for information and resources.
Warning signs: Talk
A person might describe:
• Being a burden to others
• Feeling trapped
• Experiencing unbearable pain
• Having no reason to live
• Killing themselves
Warning signs: Behavior
A person might:
• Increase alcohol or drug use
• Look for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online
• Act recklessly
• Withdraw from activities
• Isolate from family and friends
• Sleep too much or too little
• Visit or call people to say goodbye
• Give away prized possessions
• Act aggressively
Warning signs: Mood
A person might display one or more of:
• Loss of interest
(Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
Wagner called her son Logan a “kind and extremely thoughtful person” that was passionate about being a leader and held to his convictions tenaciously.
She said that even with those facts, Logan struggled with his share of social and emotional problems that began to build.
“A dark side began to creep in and at times he would become overwhelmed, small problems pressed on him like giant waves,” she said. “Eventually he hid his pain and stopped talking to me completely about his troubles. He slept a lot, he drove recklessly while watching Netflix, he hid things in his room and on his computer that no 17-year-old should have.”
She said that on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016, her son reached out to a counselor to get help and was told the first available appointment was the following Monday. But before he could get the help he was reaching out for, he took his own life.
“I thought I could wake myself up from the nightmare if I screamed enough,” Wagner said, emotion overflowing from her voice as she addressed the still and silent crowd. “Nothing prepares you for the numerous firetrucks, ambulances and police cars racing towards your house.”
Turning towards the four people on stage with her — one of Logan’s teachers at West Forsyth, Logan’s physician, her own therapist and another local mother — Wagner said that each of their lives have been affected by her son’s death.
“It’s called the ripple effect,” she said. “These wonderful people have volunteered their time tonight in hopes that our story can help you with your story.”
In turn, the five people took turns talking about Logan Wagner and how things in their life had been changed by his suicide.
Logan Wagner’s former teacher, Lindsay Needham, talked about her memories of the teen and about the changing school culture at West Forsyth and in Forsyth County.
“As an adult in the building, I feel like it caused everybody to rethink their connection with kids and what our true job is as an educator,” Needham said.
Gary Orris of Lanier Family Healthcare, Logan Wagner’s former physician spoke about when he heard that the teen had died and how families should be able to talk to their physicians about suicide.
“I was shocked, I really was … and when I heard that, I didn’t believe it,” Orris said. “When Logan had left my office the last time I had seen him we had talked about how he was going to help me make T-shirts to shoot out of my T-shirt cannon at West Forsyth football games ... and that just reinforces what they may be keeping inside.”
Counselor Tom Query of Wellspring Counseling Center spoke to the crowd about the myths of suicide, explaining that not all suicides are due to depression and talking to someone about suicidal thoughts doesn’t increase their likelihood to carry out suicidal ideas.
Jennifer Barker, the mother of a daughter who had struggled with suicidal thoughts and successfully completed treatment, talked about how hearing Logan Wagner’s story had inspired their family to keep fighting.
“How we are able to do this, is through Logan,” Barker said. “And every point in Leah’s life, they did it together.”
Before leaving the stage, Krista Wagner left the audience with one last thought, that now they were part of the ripple and taking that message outwards into the community.
“You have no idea how many lives you may have touched tonight,” she said, looking back towards the other speakers.
After the summit, Mills said that this was the message of the night, that for every negative ripple that a suicide causes, there are countless lives that are touched and turned into a positive force. She said that events like this summit, where people can hear the stories of people like Wagner and Barker, and learn about organizations like the Whisper Movement or the LRJ Foundation, are the catalyst for change.
“In order to be a change, we have to consciously make an effort to make a difference ... it starts at home, it starts at school, it starts at the workplace,” she said. “Ultimately the ripple effect starts with each of us.”