These college students are helping to prevent suicide, despite what some say on Facebook

Tri-City college students who lost friends to suicide are partnering with businesses and suicide prevention groups on Sept. 15 to give out free gun lock boxes.
Tri-City college students who lost friends to suicide are partnering with businesses and suicide prevention groups on Sept. 15 to give out free gun lock boxes. Tri-City Herald

The two Tri-City college students on a mission to help prevent suicides in our community are on the right track, despite critics on our Facebook page who say people who want to die will find a way.

Ali Williamson and Brenden Perkins started a group called Locks for Life to raise awareness after they lost friends who used guns to commit suicide.

On Sept. 15, they will give out nearly 500 free gun lock boxes at Ranch & Home in Kennewick, a day that coincides with the 10th annual Walk About to Talk About Suicide event sponsored by the Youth Suicide Prevention Program of Benton/Franklin County.

Suicide is complicated, and there are no easy answers that explain why it is on the rise nationally, in our state and in our region. But even if we don’t know how to stop this alarming trend, accepting it should not be an option.

That’s why Williamson and Perkins are doing what they can to make a difference.

Gun safety and suicide prevention go hand-in-hand, and providing people with a free lock box can help keep a weapon away from someone in crisis.

And yes – for those determined to commit suicide, a lock box probably won’t deter them.

But what if they aren’t so determined? What if they are having a devastating, short-term moment that puts them over the edge? If they don’t have easy access to a gun, could that moment pass? Could there be more time for someone to intervene?

Nobody knows for sure.

But for some families, there are enough what-ifs to justify keeping guns locked away, especially if there are troubled loved ones living in the house.

Williamson, 19, a graduate of Hanford High School, and Perkins, 20, a graduate of Kiona-Benton City High School, had a day last year when they went to two separate funerals for friends who shot themselves.

Both felt compelled to act, and the idea for the lock box program was born.

In addition to Ranch & Home, the lock box giveaway is also sponsored by the Benton-Franklin Health District, Safe Kids Benton-Franklin and Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland. Kadlec covered the $10,000 cost of the lock boxes, which can hold a handgun and are secured with a combination lock.

In 2017, there were 48 suicides in Benton County – the most in 10 years. More than half were by gunshot, followed by hangings and overdoses. And as of this June, Kennewick police had responded to 53 suicide attempts, nearly a third more than at the same time last year.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Washington state for people age 15 to 34, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the organization notes that more than five times as many people die by suicide in Washington annually than by homicide.

And nationally, the number of kids hospitalized for thinking about suicide or attempting suicide doubled in less than a decade, according to Time Magazine.

Most experts say mental illness and depression are the primary causes for suicide, and that social media also might play a part.

Getting to the root cause of suicide is important if we are going to reduce the number of people who kill themselves, but in the meantime, smaller steps that promote awareness are helpful.

Williamson and Perkins were grieving the senseless loss of their friends, and they wanted to channel that grief into a positive activity. We say keep up the good work, and don’t surrender.