- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

ST. MARYS, Pa. (AP) - When the Hockmans lost their son to suicide, they started walking.

In walking with others who experienced a similar loss, they learned lessons.

Since 22-year-old Seth Hockman’s death almost one year ago, Michele Hockman said taking steps with hundreds of other families in Erie, Pittsburgh and DuBois has taught her that too many are lost to suicide.

“At each one of the walks we learned something and what we wanted to do was bring it home to St. Marys,” Don Hockman said. “St. Marys has been hit kind of hard to me, in at least the four (suicides) I’m aware of.”

Step by step, in walking with others and in trying to heal, the Hockmans have also learned that while the circumstances and reasons for every suicide are different, the pain felt by those left behind is the same -deep, acute, long-lasting, and riddled with questions that will likely never be answered.

Don describes the weeks after losing his son as an emotional rollercoaster where he went from “loving Seth to hating Seth,” from “being ashamed of Seth, to remembering all of the things that he did and being so proud of him.”

But amid the extreme emotions, the Hockmans were determined to transform their grief into positive change.

That is why they are organizing the “St. Marys First Annual Speak Up! Reach Out! Walk” to be held on Sunday, May 22 in memory of their son.

Remembering Seth

Michele and Don remember Seth as an outgoing and giving son, brother and fisherman who loved the outdoors, four-wheelers, and Chevy trucks.

“He was contagious,” said Michele, smiling warmly while holding back tears.

A 2011 graduate of St. Marys Area High School, the 22-year-old was employed at SGL Carbon where he worked as a lathe operator. He set his sights to pursue an apprenticeship to become a skilled CNC machinist, before his life was cut short.

In the early morning hours of May 25, 2015, at his home on Queens Road in St. Marys, Seth took his own life.

Hundreds came to his wake and funeral. Michele and Don said none of them saw any signs of suicide in their son either.

“The million dollar question is ‘Why?” Michele said. “And we still don’t know.”

Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed a person’s capacity to cope. And in Seth’s case, it was likely no different.

In therapy after his son’s death, Don came to terms with the fact that his son’s suicide was likely situational. He didn’t suffer from long-term mental illness or depression that the family knew of, rather, life events sent him into a tailspin.

The weekend Seth Hockman took his own life represented the one-year anniversary of a past tragedy.

On May 24, 2014, Hockman was canoeing with a large group on the Clarion River when one of the boats got hung up on a bridge pylon along Portland Mills Road in Ridgway Township. Having flooded days before, the river was high and swift. When the boat became entangled, so did 25-year-old Brittney Baird of DuBois.

While Hockman and a friend attempted to jump in to save her, the current was too swift and they were swept downriver. Baird ultimately drowned.

The night before Seth committed suicide, he was also pulled over for a DUI.

“I think the circumstances were overwhelming and he ended his life early in the morning,” Don said. “None of us saw this coming.”

On the rise

Five deaths investigated in Elk County in 2015 were suicides - among them was Seth Hockman’s. Suicide represented seven percent of the 74 total deaths investigated by the county coroner last year.

The county’s suicide total in 2015 is an increase from the prior year when four were reported.

This increase reflects trends nationally where suicide is the tenth leading cause of death and suicide rates and have been gradually on the rise between 2005-2014, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control.

Pennsylvania ranks 31st in the country with the highest suicide rates, with a person committing suicide every five hours within the state, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The 2013 Pennsylvania Youth Survey reports that 12.3 percent of students in Elk County between sixth and twelfth grade have considered suicide; 9.7 percent planned suicide; and 6.7 percent attempted suicide. Each of these rates hovers just below the statewide average.

“Everyone needs to realize that this is something that could touch their life tonight or tomorrow, and if they arm themselves with awareness, maybe, just maybe, they can prevent a suicide or save a life,” Don said.

Walking to remember

To the Hockmans, awareness is key.

This is why the family is hoping to rally over 100 people to walk a two-mile loop through downtown St. Marys on the afternoon of May 22.

Simply put, Don and Michele, as well as Seth’s two sisters and two brothers, hope an army of people walking through the main thoroughfares of the city in brightly colored t-shirts will create a buzz and start a real discussion about suicide, its impact on the community, and how it can be prevented.

Registration will start at 12:30 p.m. that day at 301 Depot Street, with the opening ceremony at 1:30 p.m. and walk to start promptly at 2 p.m. The event will have a balloon release, music, and speakers. More information is available at inlovingmemoryofseth.com.

Funds raised at the walk will go toward a scholarship fund in Hockman’s name which will be gifted annually to students pursuing vocational training, like Seth wanted to. Currently the family has raised $2,700 of its $15,000 fundraising goal.

“This isn’t a Seth Hockman walk, this is a walk for everybody,” Don said. “We want to raise awareness and for other people to have a team for anyone who has been impacted by this.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1SwjlR7

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Information from: The Courier-Express, https://www.thecourierexpress.com

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