CHATHAM, NJ - The overcast skies couldn't stop the bright light of awareness that shone through on Saturday when the first "Out of the Darkness" Community Walk was held behind Chatham High School.
People came from as far away as Virginia to raise more than $65,000 and remember lost friends and relatives who are no longer here because of suicide, an issue participants say needs to be brought to light.
The goal stated by Meredith Henning of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is to reduce suicides by at least 20 percent by the year 2025.
Chatham's Adam Vazir, Matt Giaquinto of Summit, Madison Rae Torres of Boonton and Tommy Fuss of Massachusetts were among those lost too young.
"People don't realize it's the second-leading cause of death (ages 15 to 34 according to the National Center of Injury Prevention and Control)," Dr. Aman Vazir said. "He was doing great academically, he was good athlete, he had a job lined up after college. He died at 21. The universities aren't doing as much as they could. That's why we're here. This is really hard, but if one life can be saved, this is worth it."
Adam Vazir's fraternity brothers from the University of Virginia came to the event to walk as part of the "Vaziracles."
Chatham High senior Dani Coates is doing her part to bring awareness by lobbying the school district to add more suicide prevention to the health curriculum.
"A lot of kids at the high school feel like it is something they'll never have to deal with because it isn't seen as a big problem in Chatham," Coates said. "My goal is to make them know it is definitely here and it's good to know how to handle it at any point in life. No one talks about teenagers who are hurting themselves, but it's here. There needs to be more in the curriculum about stress, anxiety and mental health."
A group from Summit walked as "Matt's Crew" to honor their friend and do what they can to prevent it from happening to others.
"None of us saw it coming," Griffin Breen, Matt's friend, said. "I'm here today to bring awareness. I don't want this to happen to anyone like it did to his family and friends. He could have been more open about it and gotten help. He never showed any signs and I think people should talk about how they're feeling more. There is nothing worse than ending your life. There is always a solution. There were no signs we just never knew."
Boonton teenager Torres died just 10 months ago at the age of 16. "Madison's Rae of Hope" raised the most money for the walk, $11,470.
"We knew we wanted to do something," Jerri Torres said. "This is something we never, ever, ever imagined was coming. We thought we really should try to do something to raise awareness and help other people."
Chatham resident Susan Chmura came to the walk and wanted to let young mothers know about postpartum depression.
"I still suffer from depression and it started with very severe postpartum depression 41 years ago," Chmura said. "If there is any new mother or someone who had a baby recently and feels there is something wrong with them, they could be depressed. They should seek help."
Chatham Township Mayor Curt Ritter speaks at "Out of the Darkness" Community Walk
State senator and former New Jersey Governor Richard Codey speaks about mental illness
Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen talks about suicide prevention at "Out of the Darkness" Walk