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Davich: A year after Portage teen’s suicide, family celebrates life

Jasmine Sleaford with phoher younger sister Jade. Sleaford plans host series fundraisers for preventiprograms honor Jade who committed suicide year

Jasmine Sleaford with a photo of her younger sister Jade. Sleaford plans to host a series of fundraisers for prevention programs in honor of Jade who committed suicide a year ago. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 9, 2013 6:11AM



Jade Sleaford struggled to get over an emotional break up with her boyfriend last spring after dating him for more than a year.

The 17-year-old Portage High School student wasn’t acting overly upset, so her family thought she was doing OK. Plus, she had moved on to a new relationship while continuing to work at the Portage 16 Imax Theater, where she made new friends.

On April 14, a Saturday, she went out to dinner with her parents. Along the way, she exchanged texts with her ex-boyfriend. He apparently told her they were over as a couple and Jade had a “meltdown,” her family said.

Jade’s father dropped her off at home so she could calm down. While her parents were away, Jade went into the kitchen and pulled an extension cord from a drawer. She went into her bedroom and hung herself with it.

“Her note said she would love the boy forever,” said Jasmine Sleaford, Jade’s older sister.

Another heartbreaking teenage suicide and, once again, another young person who felt so overwhelmed with destructive emotions – regardless of their validity – that she chose to take her own life.

“I will never get that chance to help her grow into the wonderful young woman I knew she would be,” said Jasmine, 19, of Valparaiso. “That to me has been the biggest and hardest adjustment because throughout our whole lives it has always been Jasmine and Jade. We were a package deal. If you wanted one of us, you also got the other one.”

Jasmine is sharing Jade’s sad and painful story for multiple reasons but mostly to prevent future suicides, especially ones involving teens. The one-year anniversary of Jade’s death is Sunday and her big sister has organized several events to honor her.

“The hardest part for all of us was getting through the holidays and her birthday. But we held strong because she would have wanted us to,” said Jasmine, who felt compelled to do something constructive in Jade’s memory.

“My main goal is to get the word out and get people talking because this subject pretty much gets pushed into a box and put away in the back corner of people’s minds,” she noted. “I now personally know the destruction it leaves behind.”

This is so true, I’ve learned after writing several columns on this still-taboo subject.

As I’ve said before, it’s an unspoken rule in the newspaper business to not write about suicides, especially teen suicides, with worries of “copycat” suicides. But I disagree.

We need public dialogue, not public denial. We need more talk of suicide prevention and less talk of suicide notes. We need to shine a light into one of the darkest corners of the human condition.

“Jade was in a dark place when she did this,” Jasmine said. “One that she felt she could not escape from and could not talk about with her family or friends. This was a sad fact to learn from someone you’ve known your whole life.”

Last year, there were 36 suicides in Porter County, a 90 percent jump from the previous year and most likely the highest number ever in that county.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among those 15-24 years old, and it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. A person dies by suicide about every 16 minutes in this country, though an attempt is estimated to be made once every minute.

The rate of suicide has been increasing since 2000 and it is currently at its highest peak in the past 15 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet deaths from youth suicide are only part of the problem. Many more young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. Each year, roughly 157,000 youth between ages 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries, the CDC states.

“The truth is that suicide happens more often than it should,” Jasmine said.

Jasmine knew she would host a candlelight vigil on the one-year anniversary of Jade’s death, but she wanted to do something more. Something to raise awareness and also to raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy.

For starters, the Portage 16 theater is hosting an outreach event between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. today, with 50 percent of all concession sales donated to the organization. The theater also will house donation jars throughout this week.

“Our main goal is to raise awareness and funds for suicide prevention while honoring the memory of Jade,” said Kevin Morgan, manager of Portage 16.

The theater will be decorated in all things lime green (Jade’s favorite color) and purple (for suicide prevention), including the staff’s lime green bow ties and bracelets. (For more info, visit www.facebook.com/events/445240395554079/?fref=ts.)

“The goal is to raise money for the foundation so they can continue to raise awareness and help those cope after they have been affected by suicide,” Jasmine told me. “No one tries to understand it or explain to their kids what it does to the people left behind.”

At 8 p.m. Sunday, Jade’s family and friends will host a memorial candlelight vigil in the theater’s parking lot to remember Jade’s vibrant life, not only her stunning death.

“Jade was a bit of a comedian,” Jasmine recalled. “She had a way of always making people laugh and she would do anything to make it happen.”

Today, on my Out to Lunch radio show, I will talk more with Jasmine about Jade and the efforts to raise awareness about suicide prevention in her honor. Tune in around 12:20 p.m. on WVLP, 98.3-FM, streaming at www.wvlp.org.

“I’m just trying to prevent this from happening to someone else,” she told me.

Find more of Jerry’s writings on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and jerrydavich.wordpress.com.

Need to talk?

Call the National Suicide Hotline at (800) 784-2433 or (800) 273-8255 (TALK).



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