Casselton 8th grader helps educate adults, classmates about suicide prevention after cousin's death

CASSELTON, N.D. — It wasn't that long ago when schools, churches and families swept any discussion of suicide prevention under the rug.

But when 15-year-old Robbie Eckert died by suicide last year, his family in Colorado and Casselton knew his death needed to result in change.

"It's an epidemic. There are students who are losing their friends on a regular basis," said Tanya Kahl, Robbie's aunt.

Robbie is described as a great student and those close to him say there were no signs that he was hurting.


Robbie Eckert. Submitted photo

"There was nothing. Thirty minutes before they came home from teacher conferences, he was Snapchatting with his group of friends and there were no signs," Tanya said.

Robbie's family, including his 13-year-old cousin and Central Cass eighth grader Faith Kahl, have started HOPE groups. They distribute guides written by students for adults on the issue of suicide in classrooms and locker rooms of schools around the country, including North Dakota.

Kahl was instrumental in getting a Mental Health Week into schools as a way to get students talking and adults listening to what they had to say.

"I think (what) kids most want from adults (is) maybe just a little bit of feedback, not a whole . . . freak out session," Kahl said.

This past weekend, Robbie's parents took part in NDSU's Homecoming. They are alumni and their fraternity and sorority are helping distribute the suicide prevention booklets.

"These kids, they've got big ideas on how to make things happen and how to change the way we (adults) handle things, and our handbook is something that's big, it's important," Tanya said.

One big message from Robbie's family was how they never knew he was struggling. Their biggest regret was never having the conversation.


Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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