SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCSC) - Teen suicides have increased at an alarming rate, according to recent data.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School published a report last April, which confirmed what many had already suspected. The highest number of young Americans on record killed themselves in 2017, with a particularly sharp uptick in teenage boys between the ages of 15 and 19.
Those closest to the issue believe this unprecedented trend has neared epidemic proportions.
One Berkeley County family is living the reality of that epidemic now.
Grayson Cooper’s death sparked a large, emergency response at Cane Bay High School on Jan. 17. The 16-year old took his own life in the school’s student parking lot.
His parents, Dom and Scott, said it was an unexpected chain of events that turned their family of four into three.
“He had gotten a speeding ticket, and we were questioning him about it, and he denied it,” Dom Cooper said.
She and her husband had discovered their Grayson had lied to them about getting pulled over a month prior.
“I called him right before school, which was 8:50, and I said hey, look, just let me know what’s going on, if this is true. It looks like it’s you, just tell me the truth,” Dom said.
Dom didn’t know it then, but that conversation would be her last with her son.
She went to Cane Bay High School after the phone call hoping to find the speeding ticket inside Grayson’s car. But what she found instead was any mother’s worst nightmare.
“He was still warm,” Dom said. “She [the 911 dispatcher] asked me if he had a defibrillator in the car, and I said no he didn’t carry anything like that. So, she asked if the school had one, so I went running back to the school…banging on the door and finally someone answered. I told them I needed someone out there immediately. I know I looked like I was in hysterics, and as soon I started running back to his car, I heard them go into lockdown.”
As first responders raced to the scene, panic and rumors quickly spread.
The full scope of what happened remained unclear for hours during the emergency response. Parents began lining up outside the school’s doors, fearing the worst for their own children, not knowing it was just one family who would need to grieve the loss of a child.
The Coopers said there were no obvious signs Grayson would ever end his own life, and now they’ve been left to wonder for the rest of their lives what more they could have done to prevent his death.
“You feel so guilty,” Dom said. “No parent should ever, ever, no matter what the situation is, have their child die before them.”
The Coopers have been able to find strength through in sharing Grayson’s story.
“People need to see the aftermath…they need to see how it affects families, how it affects the rest of your life. The pain is always going to be there. My heart is always going to beat in a different way,” Dom said.
She and her husband turned to Facebook to post about Grayson’s life and the pain they were suffering after his passing.
“Our raw emotions of the aftermath, it’s changed a lot of people’s outlook, and that’s what we are trying to do,” Scott said.
“He saved a lot of lives already. We’ve had people reach out to us,” Dom said. “Parents, kids [saying] because of you, I was able to talk to my mom for the first time with my problems, because of you I was able to see the signs in my child…Of course, I’m jealous as a mom because they get to hold their kid, and I don’t get to hold mine. But I’m grateful that people are getting the message, and they are starting to understand this is an epidemic.”
The reality of that epidemic now strung along chains around their necks. Dom and Scott have necklaces featuring Grayson’s fingerprint. His older brother, Josh, wears a cross filled with some of Grayson’s ashes. However, it’s Grayson’s memory they hope to keep alive through their message to other families.
“It’s always been so taboo. [suicide] That’s something people didn’t talk about,” Scott said. “But people need to know. They need to know the aftermath of what’s left after something like this.”
Grayson was a proud Air Force JROTC Cadet and following his death, his parents learned he had been chosen for a scholarship for flight school. It was something Grayson was supposed to find out the day he died.
Instead of celebrating that great success, his family and friends be celebrating his life on Feb. 22. The gathering will be held at the Cooper’s home, just two days after Grayson’s 17th birthday.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. There is also an online chat which can be found here.