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Published September 28, 2009, 12:00 AM

Suicide awareness walk raises $32K

Martha Guerrero wore a white T-shirt displaying a photograph of her smiling daughter Sarah.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

Martha Guerrero wore a white T-shirt displaying a photograph of her smiling daughter Sarah.

The Moorhead woman lost her daughter three years ago, when she committed suicide at the age of 17.

Guerrero was one of more than 500 people who turned out on a rainy, blustery Sunday afternoon to participate in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk, in support of suicide prevention and education.

“It’s a way of coming together and sharing in the loss of someone to suicide,” Guerrero said. “We all feel it in one way or another.”

The group of Guerrero family members and friends were among 532 people who registered for the 3-mile walk’s fourth annual observance, beginning this year at Fargo’s Lindenwood Park.

That compares to 400 last year, a sign that the stigma over suicide – which strikes every four days in North Dakota – is beginning to fade, said Mary Weiler, one of the event’s organizers.

“We’re really happy about the turnout, considering the weather,” said Weiler, whose daughter Jennifer Ann committed suicide at age 23 four years ago, a tragedy that moved her family to organize to combat suicide and the taboo against discussing it.

“They say 80 percent of us will be affected in some way or touched by suicide,” Weiler said, adding that most who take their lives or consider doing so battle depression.

By recognizing the signs, and taking action, people can help to prevent suicide, Weiler said.

Sunday’s walk raised an estimated $32,000. Proceeds benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and its North Dakota chapter. Workshops will help establish new community chapters in the state, and train law enforcement officers as well as first responders about suicide, Weiler said.

Mary Ann Birkeland of New Rockford, N.D., also turned out for Sunday’s event. Her son-in-law, a school superintendent, committed suicide five years ago.

“It’s a shame for people to hide it, that’s for sure,” said Birkeland. Tim Guler died at age 50, leaving a wife, two sons and a daughter. Birkeland wore a T-shirt bearing his photograph.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522