Students riveted by mom’s account of her son’s suicide
November 12, 2018
By Jim Walsh
Northeast Mesa charter students were riveted as LeAnn Hull spoke about the worst day of her life – the day her son, Andy, 16, came home from school and took his life
After she spoke of what happened December 11, 2012, and her Andy Hull’s Sunshine Foundation, the Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center’s Red Mountain students responded to the gut-wrenching presentation with gut-wrenching admissions of their own.
One boy told Hull how he attempted suicide twice. A girl confessed how she feared her own actions may have contributed to another person considering suicide. A third described how an online friend had written about the possibility of completing suicide several times.
Hull spoke to all these students privately after her presentation, hoping to refer them to mental health professionals.
She readily admits she is not a psychologist or a social worker, just a grieving mother on a mission to save lives – a mission she finds therapeutic and satisfying at times, frustrating at others.
Hull’s presentation came as a rash of teen suicides continues to plague the East Valley. At least 19 East Valley teens have taken their lives since July 2017.
While some schools have been open to her presentations, others have not been so welcoming, Hull said.
Hull said presentations like hers are only one part of a long-term strategy needed to discourage teens from completing suicide. Educators also need to be trained on how to recognize early warning signs. She views herself as a catalyst who can connect students with the professional services they need.
“I can’t bring my son back. The most I can do is honor his life by saving another life,” Hull said. “I hear things and I see things that everyone else doesn’t. I have a hyper-sensitivity to it.”
Her message to students is their lives matter – to their parents, their friends and society. “Let’s listen a little better, look a little deeper and connect,’’ she said.
The students seemed focused on Hull’s presentation.
Ray Gless, the school’s administrator, said he asked for presentations to learn more about bullying and teen suicide, two social issues that concern officials.
Dustin Smith, 17, said she experienced suicide within her family when she was younger.
“I would love to be engaged to deal with it,’’ Smith said. “I think I learned most of all that everyone is vulnerable,’’ that it’s vital to recognize warning signs and to intervene when necessary.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry. You get so focused, you get tunnel vision in life, it’s mostly about school. I think it can degrade you. Sometimes, you forget to ask for help.”
Hull described how her son, a talented left-handed pitcher for the Sandra Day O’Connor High School baseball team, seemed to have everything going for him.
She said Andy was scouted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Kansas City Royals, and prestigious college baseball teams. She said he got mostly A’s and B’s in his classes in school.
“He was just a joy, he really was an awesome kid,’’ she said. “He just oozed a love of life. He loved sports in general.’’
But there also were warning signs that were missed. Andy told two of his friends that he was contemplating suicide a week before he took his own life. His friends told no one.
“You have to put the friend before the friendship,’’ Hull said. “I have called 9-1-1 on adults. I would rather lose a friend than lose a life.’’
She said Andy broke up with a serious girlfriend, and received a bad grade from a language arts teacher, which made him worry that he might not be able to play baseball.
Hull said Andy made a troubling, cryptic statement to her, saying if she knew what he was thinking, it would scare her. It was a warning sign, Hull said, and she missed it.
“It wasn’t one thing that caused Andy to take his life. It was a multitude of things. There were a multitude of things that could have been done,” Hull said.
She urged the teens to develop coping skills, so they can find peace during difficult times, whether it’s music, or reading or exercise. She said teens and even adults sometimes lose prospective on life, not realizing that everyone has setbacks, and learning how to deal with them is part of growing up.
Coping skills can help someone make the right decision even when they have dark thoughts, the decision not to act on such thoughts, Hull said.
“I am here to tell you about failures and loses, and how important they are to establish your emotional resiliency,” Hull said. “Learning some coping skills will help you through your entire life.’’
“You aren’t the first kids to go through a breakup,’’ she said, or apply to a college and not get accepted, or to get passed over for a job. “Without the clouds, we don’t appreciate the sun.’’
Hull, a mother of four who operated a construction company and ran unsuccessfully for Congress, said her son’s suicide was overwhelming.
At one point, she put a gun to her own head. Another time, she sat in her a car at an intersection, trying to work up the nerve to pull out in front of a large truck in an attempt to take her own life.
But Hull said she eventually recognized she needed psychologist help to deal with her own loss and needed to ask for it.
In her quest to save others, Hull has found a sense of purpose. She estimates she has made about 400 suicide prevention presentations in the five and a half years since Andy’s death.
“I feel strong and good about what I’m doing,’’ she said. “I want to be one of the voices, one of the messengers.”