Candlelight vigil sheds light on suicide

A suicide last month at Wichita State drew solemn faces of students, faculty and staff as they lined the Rhatigan Student Center east patio and stairs and filling three rows of available chairs Friday evening.

“I’m excited to see that Shocker Nation is standing out here in so many numbers and standing tall in the midst of adversity,” Student Body President Joseph Shepard said. 

Just before sunset, Wichita State’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Hispanic American Leadership Organization (HALO) and others held a candlelight vigil to remember the life of the Shocker Hall resident who died by suicide last month. The vigil was also held to increase awareness of suicide and suicide prevention. About 50 people attended. 

“I encourage every one of you to not reflect on the fact that she and many other individuals are not here with us, but to reflect on the impact they had on our lives when they were here,” Shepard said.

Senior Steve Paniagua, a friend of the Shocker Hall resident, spoke after Shepard.

“I first met [her]* playing a video game,” Paniagua said. “She was a wonderful person to be around.” 

Paniagua then spoke about depression and how they both struggled.

“It just feels like you’re drowning … but there’s always someone there,” Paniagua said.

Paniagua ended his speech with a minute of silence in honor of his friend’s life.

After the vigil, Paniagua was able to speak in depth about how he was there for his friend until the end.

When school started, Paniagua said they enjoyed a group dinner at Applebee’s. He made sure his best friend was there so she could be introduced to everybody since she came to WSU from Hawaii this year. 

“These are all of the people you’re going to see throughout the year, and even if you make no other friends, these are the ones that are going to be there,” Paniagua remembered saying to her. 

Paniagua said he basically forced his best friend to go to counseling, and that she made use of it, but her life ended tragically because she just couldn’t take it anymore. 

“What I did for [her] I would have done to any one of my friends,” Paniagua said. “There’s a lot of people who are out there who are willing to help you.”

Kelvin Lopez, vice president of HALO, said the group organized the vigil because the victim was a member of the organization.

“We’re a tight-knit group of people,” Lopez said. “When this happens to a family member, it hurts all of us.”

Even though Lopez wasn’t close friends with the victim, he said her death impacted him, especially because he has had three friends commit suicide. Each death was devastating, Lopez said.

One was successful in academics and was the captain of his high school soccer team.

 “He found acceptance from everyone else, but he didn’t find acceptance from his family,” Lopez said. 

Members of the Counseling and Testing Center were available afterward for anyone needing help. Tables were set up with brochures and magnets with the national suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Derek Rohleder, a staff psychologist with the Counseling and Testing Center, spoke at the end of the vigil in an effort to educate attendees on depression and suicide prevention. 

In response to the commonly asked, “What more could we have done?” Rohleder responded: Take notice when those around us are struggling and don’t be afraid to talk about suicide because doing so doesn’t put it in someone’s mind. They are either already thinking about suicide, or it isn’t a problem.

Rohleder said 7.5 million Americans struggle with suicidal thoughts every year, but less than 5 percent go through with it, meaning millions escape suicide every year.

 “I want you guys to feel that whenever you are feeling in a place of self-doubt, you can open up and talk to someone,” Shepard said. “Because there are many people that care about you, and even if you feel they don’t, they do.” 

— Editor’s note: The Sunflower chose to not publish the student’s name because it did not receive direct permission from the student’s relatives.