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  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Walk participants, from left, Carter Miller, 8, his mother, Hannah Miller, and Rachael Luley pass out “Bruce's Bunch” shirts for the Out of the Darkness Walk at Headwaters Park on Sunday. 

  • Anne Bohlman, of Paws Inc., greets guests with a Great Dane named MiniMoo during Sunday’s event.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Guests check in during the Out of the Darkness Walk event at Headwaters Park on Sunday. The event included live entertainment, information booths, dogs, Star Wars characters, the walk through downtown Fort Wayne and more.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Erica Andrews and her daughter Brinley, 5, are all smiles as they work on a drawing during the Out of the Darkness Walk event at Headwaters Park on Sunday. 

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Jaylen Martin, 13, is all smiles as he meets the Star Wars character Chewbacca during the Out of the Darkness Walk event at Headwaters Park on Sunday. 

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Mike and Ann McConkey wear red shirts dedicated to Bobby Kissinger during the Out of the Darkness Walk event at Headwaters Park on Sunday. The event included live entertainment, information booths, dogs, Star Wars characters, the walk through downtown and more.

Monday, October 02, 2017 1:00 am

Walking into the light

Suicide prevention event upbeat, focuses on hope

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

The pain of losing someone to suicide was clear Sunday at Headwaters Park, where Out of the Darkness Walk participants clothespinned handwritten notes to chicken wire.

“Dad,” one message began, “there is not a day that goes by that we don't miss you. I miss the camping trips, playing ball and you quizzing me on music! You are so loved.”

“You are loved and missed daily,” another started. “I wish you could see the love you left.”

But make no mistake – the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention fundraiser wasn't intended to be somber or mournful, walk chairwoman DeAnna Vorndran said.

“Our whole message is about hope,” she said.

Rather than tissues and tears, good cheer was prominent. Music, including ABBA's “Dancing Queen,” blared from the speakers, face painting was offered and people dressed as “Star Wars” characters greeted walkers as they returned to the pavilion.

First-year participant Shelby Walters of Fort Wayne said she was moved by the scene, which had “so much happiness in one place” and a unifying cause.

“I got chills,” she said.

More than 1,100 people participated in the walk and raised a record $61,782, which the foundation will use for research, educational programs, public policy advocacy and support for survivors of suicide loss.

Organizers hoped to raise $50,000, Vorndran said.

Like others, she wore strands of beads that signified her connection to the cause. The nine colors represented support of suicide prevention, those who have struggled or attempted suicide, and losses such as a child or parent.

Vorndran's walk began when her nephew killed himself about four years ago, she said, adding she saw the devastation it did to his family.

“The truth is,” she said, “suicide is completely preventable.”

Michelle Hirsch gave away free hugs – and Hershey kisses – in the pavilion, knowing how important physical contact can be.

She lost her father and brother by suicide and shares her story on Facebook through The Darby Pledge. She also distributes her phone number as a resource for people who know someone who is struggling.

“I get calls all the time,” she said. “They don't even know where to start.”

Help is also available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, and the crisis text line, 741-741, which connects users with a trained crisis counselor.

Donations to the Fort Wayne walk will be accepted through Dec. 31 at www.afsp.org/fortwayne.

asloboda@jg.net