Tara Martin never saw it coming.
Neither she nor her husband Scott saw any signs that anything was wrong in the life of their 14-year-old son, Tyler, before March 17 — when the Rainbow Middle School eighth-grader ended his own life.
"He'd gotten in trouble at school," Tara said, but it was nothing serious. "I don't think that had anything to do with it," she said.
While their son was not a troublemaker, he'd been in trouble before; if he was punished, she said, he just said he was sorry and that was it.
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She had brought him home from school about 9 a.m., she said. He spent most of the day unsupervised while Scott, who works nights, slept.
"If we'd thought he was that upset, we would have never left him alone," Tara said.
Within days of losing Tyler so unexpectedly, Martin told friend and co-worker Jessica Ponder she wanted to do something to raise awareness about suicide.
In the months since, they have formed Behind the Smile Inc., a nonprofit with the goal of educating young people and their parents about the risk of suicide — even among kids who don't seem to be troubled, who don't seem to be at risk.
"One thing people always mentioned about Tyler was what a beautiful smile he had," Jessica said, "and that he was always happy."
Tara believes now that despite that smile, there had to have been something troubling him — something they didn't see and can't pinpoint now.
"I'll have that question for the rest of my life," Tara said.
Their plan is to provide literature to Etowah County schools about suicide and, eventually, to bring speakers in to talk about mental health issues.
Suicide is not something people want to talk about, they know, especially with their kids or teens.
"I never talked to my children about suicide," Tara said. "I never thought I needed to."
"Your kids are going to hear about suicide," Jessica said. "If it's not '13 Reasons Why' with suicide for revenge, it's 'Romeo and Juliet,'" she said, which romanticizes it.
Young people need to hear about the finality of such an act, she said, and the heartbreak it causes for families and friends.
Tara said if Tyler had understood the pain his suicide would have caused them, he wouldn't have done it.
"He was a caring, thoughtful child," she said.
The nonprofit is selling T-shirts, designed with the help of Heather Clough and Joel Stapleton. The front features a stylized baseball cap in blue — Tyler's favorite color — with a white smile underneath. On the back is a Bible verse: "Do not let your hearts be troubled." John 14:1
Behind the Smile is now registering runners for The TyDy4Tyler Color Run on Sept. 16.
Tara said Tyler ran in a color run and loved it; they decided the timed 5K/1K fun run would be a good way to honor him, as well as raising money for suicide education.
Suicide was the third leading cause of death among children ages 10 to 14 in 2014, with 425 children dying, according to Center for Disease Control statistics. For ages 15-24, the numbers were 5,079 — again the second leading cause of death.
Only unintentional accidents claimed more lives in those age groups.
According to the Parent Resource Program, mental health or addictive issues are associated with 90 percent of suicides. Bullying is another factor in child or teen suicides.
"Situational Crisis" was a factor in 40 percent of youth suicides. In those cases, it was a situation such as the divorce or separation of parents, the loss of a loved one, abuse or discipline/getting into trouble (especially for the first time) that was believed to have led to suicide.
Tara said she saw no catalyst of that kind in Tyler's life.
Jessica said he was not bullied; he was a popular kid; he played several sports and especially liked baseball. No one would have expected something like this from him, she said.
"It was such a shock," Tara said. "We're still living day-to-day."
She said the principals and everyone at Rainbow Middle School and at their 10-year-old son's elementary school were great. They provided counseling for other students, let them put notes in Tyler's locker, and write or draw messages for him in sidewalk chalk outside the school.
There were notes for Tyler's little brother, too, she said, and she still gets text messages from Tyler's friends about how they miss him.
Jessica said as they've planned the 5K they have received tremendous support from the community — including donated bounce houses from J and J Inflatables and cooperation in starting the run at the football field next to the middle school.