- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Alaskans participated in a yearly community walk in the state’s largest city to raise awareness about suicide and remember loved ones who took their own lives.

More than 700 people took part in the 3-mile walk around downtown Anchorage, despite overcast skies that brought occasional sprinkles. The event was part of the annual fundraising “Out of the Darkness” walks held nationwide by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The Alaska chapter organized Saturday’s walk, as well as recent walks in Palmer and Fairbanks.

“Today is all about bringing awareness to suicide, and this event itself - in addition to an awareness event - it’s our signature fundraising event,” Chapter board chair Dennis Lasley said after the walk began with a bagpipe send-off.

Alaska consistently is among the highest in the nation in suicide rates, particularly among Alaska Natives, ranking second in 2014, the most recent 50-state data available.

The foundation says suicide is the leading cause of death in Alaska among people between the ages of 15 and 24. Overall, it’s the fifth-leading cause of death in the state, according to the organization. In 2014, there were 167 suicides in Alaska - or about one every two days.

Karen Fairbanks of Anchorage and her young daughter Kaylee were among those participating in Saturday’s walk. It was Fairbanks’ third time, something she does in memory of a cousin in Bethel who killed himself and a nephew in Point Hope who attempted to.

Fairbanks, who is Inupiat and Tlingit, said the walks are way to bring the subject of suicide out in the open, which she believes can benefit everyone.

“Just the fact that they know that there’s hope out there and they’re not alone, and they should be able to feel they can talk to someone in that dark moment,” she said after writing her cousin’s name on a memorial wall at a downtown park, where the event kicked off.

The foundation’s Alaska chapter held its first walk in Anchorage in 2011, drawing some 220 participants who raised a total of more than $13,000. More than 700 people participated in last year’s event, raising slightly more than $60,000.

Saturday’s walk raised nearly $58,000, according to a preliminary tally.


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