FARGO — Ila Mae Lou Averson was a baseball fan and a fun-loving person. She built a 40-year career as a secretary for Northern States Power Co., and she was married for more than 50 years.
But when kidney disease and other health problems chipped away at her well-being and mobility, her happiness faded in the last few years.
"She said it was a sad time in her life. She had problems with her legs and had to use a walker," said her sister, Carol Haak of Vergas, Minn.
According to Fargo police and Cass County District Court documents, Ila and her husband, Louis Averson, whose health was also failing, apparently made a suicide pact.
The couple, both 85, left a will on their dining room table Friday night, June 1, then went to their garage at their south Fargo apartment complex at 331 Prairiewood Circle S. Then, they ran their Toyota Avalon in an attempt to die by carbon monoxide poisoning.
When that didn't work, Louis allegedly got a .38-caliber revolver and in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 2, shot Ila in the chest, killing her. He then shot himself in the chest, but survived. Now he is in Sanford Hospital, recovering from his wounds, under guard and facing a murder charge.
"I guess, looking back ... suicide wasn't quite a shock," Haak said Wednesday, June 6. "The shock was how she died, by being shot like that."
Ila didn't come out and say she wanted to die, but in hindsight, Haak said there were hints.
"She did mention that she wished the Lord would come down and take her," Haak said. "I know she once mentioned that all she had to do was quit dialysis" and she would die.
The Forum also reached out to Louis Averson on Wednesday.
Averson, who was a Fargo firefighter from 1954 to 1979, told Cass County sheriff's deputies guarding him that he did not care to be interviewed, said Capt. Andrew Frobig, the Cass County Jail administrator.
Ila was born May 1, 1933, in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and grew up in Lake Park, Minn., where she graduated from high school. She married Louis Averson in 1962 in Lake Park Lutheran Church, Haak said.
The Averson's had no children and were "very private people," Haak said. "They never really wanted anyone over there."
Haak didn't know much about Louis.
"My family hasn't had much to do with him," Haak said. But she'd talk with Ila every four to six weeks. "It was always Ila that called."
"She liked to watch baseball. She was a big Minnesota Twins fan. And she liked to do puzzles also. And read magazines," Haak said.
Ila's passing, like her life, will be private, Haak said. Ila's wishes were to be cremated, without a funeral.
A serious concern
Local and national experts say suicide brought on by depression and anxiety, social isolation, chronic pain, failing finances and other circumstances is a serious concern for the elderly.
Suicide and suicide pacts among seniors are not something people want to talk about, said Kathleen Cameron, senior director for the Center for Healthy Aging at the National Council on Aging. But "it's not unheard of, unfortunately. It's very sad."
Suicide is "unfortunately more common than we'd like to think about," Cameron said. Guns often play a role, particularly for men, she said.
Cameron said getting seniors help to deal with depression, pain and other issues is vital. "Depression is not a normal part of aging. And suicide is not a normal part of anyone's aging," she said.
Kim Douglas, a counselor at The Village Family Service Center in Fargo, said seniors see depression as a flaw or weakness. With the Baby Boom generation marching into retirement and people living longer, "those problems ... are coming up more often."
Douglas said suicide pacts appear to be a trend among the elderly "especially those who have been together a long time. Even my parents will say, 'If you die, I want to die.' Especially if they love each other, they can't imagine a life without the other."
Some phrases are red flags.
"If they say 'I feel like a burden,' that's when your red flags should go up," Douglas said. "If you hear people say 'I wish I would go to sleep and just not wake up,' that's a suicidal thing."
Douglas says friends and family who see signs of depression in seniors should urge them to visit a doctor or counselor.
"Depression, if left untreated, can be fatal," she said.
Warning signs of suicide
The more signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide:
• Talking about wanting to die.
• Looking for a way to kill oneself.
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
• Talking about being a burden to others.
• Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
• Acting anxious, agitated or reckless.
• Sleeping too little or too much.
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
• Displaying extreme mood swings.
What to do
If someone you know shows warning signs:
• Don't leave the person alone.
• Remove any guns, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
• Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255). Local call center FirstLink answers calls to this lifeline from North Dakota and Clay County.
• Take the person to an emergency room, seek help from a medical or mental health professional or call 911.