They lost their beautiful boy. Now this Tri-Cities family is speaking up about depression, suicide

The Slack family stand inside Fran Rish Stadium in Richland on Wednesday participating in the third annual Strides to End Teen Suicide walk held by Hanford and Richland high schools. From the bottom left,  Anderson, 6, Leo Slack, Tiffany Slack, center and Darian Slack.
The Slack family stand inside Fran Rish Stadium in Richland on Wednesday participating in the third annual Strides to End Teen Suicide walk held by Hanford and Richland high schools. From the bottom left, Anderson, 6, Leo Slack, Tiffany Slack, center and Darian Slack. Tri-City Herald

Leo Slack wants to go “all the way to Slack City.”

It’s not a place, exactly, but a place in time — back when his family was whole.

Before Gavin Slack, the second-oldest son of Leo and his wife, Tiffany, died by suicide in 2016.

Leo raps and sings about his longing for Gavin in a moving tribute song, which came out last month.

Gavin’s younger brother Darian, 17, also joins in on the track, called, “Slack City: Gavin Slack.” An accompanying video is filled with images of Gavin and the rest of the family, which also includes brothers, Malik, 23, and Anderson, 6.

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The song is one of many ways the family has tried to process and deal with Gavin’s death.

It’s been hard. The pain is still sharp and will never go away, the family said.

But the Slacks have started to be able to talk about Gavin again. They can laugh at funny memories, remember good times.

And they want to raise awareness about mental illness and depression, in hopes of helping others who are struggling like Gavin did.

“It’s so stigmatized,” Tiffany said. “We need to talk more openly about our own hurts. It’s difficult, but it needs to be done.”

‘He’d see me’

Gavin was a junior at Hanford High School in Richland when he died.

Like his father, who’d been a standout athlete in his high school days, Gavin was a star on the field.

He was on Hanford’s varsity football team and qualified for state in track.

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Gavin Slack (17) turns a catch over the middle into a touchdown in this file photo. Tri-City Herald file

He was movie star handsome — tall and strapping with a megawatt smile.

He wasn’t afraid to act goofy. He loved to joke around.

He had a way of making people feel special.

“He was a beautiful baby. We always got compliments on how beautiful and happy he was, from the get-go. And it didn’t change. After his death, we got letters and cards. People would see us, (peers) and adults, and share how he would just make them smile,” mom Tiffany said. “We’d get letters, ‘I had Gavin in my freshman class. (Even years later), he’d wave at me when he’d see me in the hall. He’d acknowledge me. He’d see me.’

“That he shared himself with so many other people was pretty cool.”

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Gavin Slack jumps 21.7 feet to win the 3A long jump final at the Regional Track & Field Championships in this 2015 photo. Colin Mulvany The Spokesman-Review

Still, Gavin was dealing with pain inside.

He had depression — something he talked with his parents about.

They listened to him. They got him help and “we were slowly finding what would work,” Tiffany said.

But then in January 2016, Gavin killed himself.

Sadly, it’s not an uncommon act.

In the Tri-Cities area, 12 young people have died by suicide since 2017, according to the Benton-Franklin Health District.

In Washington, it’s the second-leading cause of death for youths ages 10 to 24.

‘Missing you’

Like the Slack family, Cameron Fordmeir said it’s important to end the stigma around depression and mental illness.

And it’s important to address thoughts of suicide, the mental health expert said.

“There’s a big myth that if you talk about suicide, you’ll make someone suicidal. It’s not true. We’re trying to make (thoughts of suicide) something that can be discussed” so that help can follow, said Fordmeir, outpatient services manager at Lourdes Counseling Center in Richland. “If you don’t feel well and have a stomachache, you’re able to convey that. It should be the same with mental health.”

Resources are available in the Tri-Cities, from classes to help recognize warning signs of suicide, to counseling, to crisis services, he said.

“Suicide is preventable. It shouldn’t be something that’s a dirty secret that we don’t talk about,” Fordmeir said.

That’s why the Slacks are speaking up. It’s part of how they’re navigating the world since Gavin’s death.

The Slack family walk around the track at Fran Rish Stadium during the third annual Strides to End Teen Suicide walk held by Hanford and Richland high schools. Students from all over Mid-Columbia were invited to participate in the walk, which is aimed at raising people’s awareness of youth suicide, remembering lost loved ones of suicides and reaching out to people who need support. If you or someone you know needs help call the Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

They’ve done other things, too, as part of the grieving and healing process. They sold their West Richland home and moved into the country; they participate in counseling individually and together; they exercise.

Tiffany is starting a nonprofit, called Light up the Darkness, aimed at youth and community wellness.

Leo and Darian made their song, with help from producers Dorion Smith and Jerk Jagger. Vince Perez helped them make the video.

On the track, Leo raps of a boy whose “soul was tender” and “heart was gold.”

“Take me all the way to Slack City, because I’m missing you,” he sings.

Even with all the “pain and strife,” he’s “thankful, still, you came in my life.”

Darian raps that he’s “finding my way, hoping I’m making you proud. You know I say it all the time, I’m screaming it loud: Gavin Slack, wish I could see you one more time. Gavin Slack, see you at the end of my time.”

‘Life’s worth it’

The other day, Tiffany, Leo and Darian pulled out photos and told stories of their beautiful, goofy, big-hearted Gavin.

About laser tag and days spent training at the track. About his love for his friends, his family.

“He was a good guy. He was a really good person who wanted to make everyone happy,” Tiffany said.

He had the travel bug, so the family went to Mexico and spread some of his ashes there.

They got special tattoos and made jewelry to remember their boy.

Leo, Tiffany and Darian Slack hold hands. Leo and Tiffany have rings with Gavin’s thumbprint and Darian also has a tattoo honoring his brother on his forearms. It’s a mix of Superman and Batman, because Gavin loved superheroes. Leo, Tiffany and Darian also have matching tattoos with Gavin’s thumbprint with a white hawk and his name. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

Darian has a tribute to his brother inked on his forearm. It’s a mix of Superman and Batman, two of Gavin’s favorite superheroes.

Instead of an “S” on the chest, there’s a “G,” for Gavin. Darian looks at it often.

“It gives me hope and inspiration to keep doing better and going forward. Especially the ‘G,’ it always reminds me of Gavin,” he said.

Darian was the younger brother, but he’s now a year older than Gavin was when he died.

Like his parents, he wants people in distress to reach out. To hang on.

“(My family) hopes we can help other people,” he said. “There is good on the other side (of depression). Life’s worth it. You’ve got to take a minute and think about it. You’ve got to get through it.”

Locally, crisis help is available by calling 509-783-0500.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). It’s available 24/7 and provides free, confidential support.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529