Jeannie Williamson still remembers peering out her Los Angeles-area apartment window to see her father being wheeled away by paramedics.

Confused, the then-11-year-old turned to her mother and other family members for answers. That's when the self-proclaimed daddy's girl learned the man she had seen as invincible had tried to take his own life.

"It still hurts to this day when I think about it," said Williamson, now a mother and wife living in Victorville.

Her father survived his suicide attempt.

For Williamson and many others like her, news of suicides or attempted suicides stir painful memories. And suicides have been in the headlines recently in San Bernardino County.

On the morning of Dec. 5 an unnamed Victor Valley College student shot and killed himself between the Student Activities Center and the school's old library in front of a handful of students.

An unidentified man recently was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Red Hill Park in Rancho Cucamonga, according to San Bernardino County Sheriff's officials.

Last week, the Los Angeles County Coroner's office declared two out of three siblings found shot dead in a burning Azusa home had committed suicide.

The three siblings may have been distraught due to a foreclosure on their home, officials said.

"People should not be ashamed to say, `Gosh, I am so sad. Why is that?'," Williamson said. "They should be told that people are there to speak with them and to help.


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It should not be swept under the rug (because they) feel ashamed to ask for help."

The California suicide rate is at 9.7 deaths per 100,000 people - below the national average of 11.3, according to a study by the County Health Status Profiles released in April of this year.

The Healthy People National Objective has set a goal of reducing the suicide rate to 4.8. No county in California met that goal in 2010.

Los Angeles County's suicide rate per 100,000 residents was 7.6 while San Bernardino County's was 10.7.

"We are trying to bring the suicide rates down by making more people aware of the warning signs," said Anara Guard, suicide prevention advisor for a statewide campaign called Know the Signs. The campaign works to increase awareness of suicide's warning signs and resources available to help prevent suicide.

The goal, Guard said, is "making people aware of how to reach out for help through crisis centers and crisis lines. Training is occurring in the counties so people can more appropriately recognize the warning signs."

Patricia Lopez, 27, of Rosemead, wished she had known the warning signs that were evident in her friend who took his life more than a decade ago.

"We called him Big Mike because he was a big teddy bear," she said. "He was a really great guy but there was something sad about him when it was just him and me."

As a high school student, Mike (she didn't want to give his last name), was always happy and bubbly when he was in a group. But when Lopez and Mike were alone, he would talk about problems at home and with his girlfriend.

"It was hard for him because his parents were really strict," Lopez said. "They were the kind that didn't talk to their kids too much. I mean, they said they loved each other, but there wasn't that much communication between them."

Soon Lopez noticed that Mike began drinking more.

Substance and alcohol abuse is one of the warning signs someone may be contemplating suicide, according to the Know the Signs website, www.SuicideIsPreventable.org.

Mike became more withdrawn. The two good friends were speaking less frequently.

Then, one day, Lopez received a call from one of Mike's family members saying her friend had killed himself.

"He hung himself in his back yard," she said. "His little brother found him."

Since Mike's death, she learned her friend was exhibiting many of the warning signs.

Many of those who attempt or succeed in taking their lives, according to Guard, have underlying issues that lead them to consider suicide as a viable answer to temporary problems. 

"Some have underlying mental health issues, poor coping skills, alcohol or drug abuse issues," Guard said. "Most people who do not have these issues will not turn to suicide when they go through a crisis like the end of a relationship or being fired from a job."

But even a person's age can place them at higher risk for suicide.

Generally, young people age 15 to 24 tend to have a higher suicide rate than the general population. Guard attributes that to impulsiveness and immature coping skills.

The second group that sees a higher suicide rate is older white men who are at retirement age.

A loss of their sense of self-worth and their inability to ask for help may be part of the explanation.

Some groups, including Hispanics, have less susceptibility to suicide. "I know that for us, taking our own life is not an option because of our religion," said Lopez.

Despite what appears to be a rash of suicides during the holidays, experts say the Christmas season has no impact on the rate of suicides and, as a matter of fact, December historically has been the month with the lowest number of confirmed self-inflicted deaths. It's a fact borne out by a recent study done by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Even if the "holiday blues" are urban legend, Guard feels it's important to keep the issue of suicide and support for those contemplating taking their lives in the forefront.

"People don't need to go to a therapist; they can reach out and talk to their clergymen, or a crisis (telephone) line," Guard said. "Those people are trained in being compassionate listeners and sometimes people just need to be heard."


Contact Beatriz via email, by phone at 909-386-3921 or on Twitter @IEBeatriz.