Vigil for West Richland teen shines light on suicide (w/ gallery)

KENNEWICK — Austin Katayama was a joy to be around.

That's what 50 family members and friends remembered as they stood in a giant circle near the Playground of Dreams at Kennewick's Columbia Park holding candles with dancing flames and sharing stories from Katayama's life Saturday night.

Like how the West Richland teen, when he was 12, had a long list of rules on his bedroom door that had to be read and followed to be allowed to enter. Or how he was willing to wear high heels to win a bet.

Katayama, 18, a senior at Richland High School, died Oct. 15 after jumping from a grain elevator in rural Benton County.

Katayama's death by suicide has left his family and friends in shock.

Jackie Templeton of Kennewick, Katayama's aunt, said Katayama, who was diagnosed as bipolar, didn't mention what he was feeling to family or friends.

"Nobody talks about it," Templeton said. "Nobody discusses it. Nobody watches for it. Nobody sees it."

And that is something Katayama's family and friends hope to change through the Austin Katayama Foundation, a newly created charity to get the word out about suicide. The organization's motto is "Suicidal thoughts are temporary. Suicide is permanent," Templeton said.

They hope to a hold a vigil every four months for those who have lost a loved one to suicide, she said.

Templeton said they are partnering with the Youth Suicide Prevention Program to get suicide awareness commercials on TV. There are resources out there, she said.

To help with that, wristbands were for sale at the vigil that said, "RIP Austin Katayama" and "Promote Suicide Awareness."

Katayama was athletic, and liked to ski, snowboard, dirtbike, wrestle. He played the drums and loved music, friends and family recalled.

And he would play pranks, Templeton said.

He was kind to everyone, said Dyana Fleming of West Richland, Katayama's mom's best friend.

He loved boating and was the best baby-sitter that Fleming said she has had for her son, Brandon, 5.

"He was one of those people that, when he walked into the room, he lighted it up," she said.

For more information, go to www.austin katayamafoundation.com or the R.I.P. Austin Katayama Facebook page.