Law enforcement agencies often find themselves on the front lines when responding to incidents involving suicide. In the past three years, they were often the first people on the scene.
On March 27, 1999, a 20-year-old Grant County man died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his pickup truck on Canyon Creek. Police found him at the scene following a pursuit.
On June 21, 2000, a 15-year-old student-athlete from John Day died at home of a self-inflicted gunshot wound; his father died nearly a year later, on April 13, 2001. Both tragedies required police investigation.
On July 18, 2002, a 51-year-old man from Culp Creek died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in an incident which involved a law enforcement-ordered evacuation along Highway 26 between Mt. Vernon and Dayville. Nearby residents were evacuated because of safety concerns. Two Oregon State Police officers negotiated with the suspect for several hours in an attempt to get him to surrender and end the standoff.
At other times, emergency responders answered calls for help in cases that largely remained anonymous. For example, on Oct. 30, 2001, the John Day Ambulance crew was dispatched to a reported suicide attempt involving a 22-year-old male. Officials say they involve mental health experts when investigating any report of individuals harming themselves.
"Sometimes there are warnings and signs," said Sheriff Glenn Palmer
Warning signs that a person might attempt suicide include changes in attitude and behavior, outbursts of anger, irrational behavior and fascination with death.
If intervention does not succeed, a crisis may ensue. That's when emergency-response workers arrive.
To avoid these worst-case scenarios, communities often attempt intervention with workshops and training sessions. In Burns, three teens - a senior at Crane Union High School, a senior at Burns High School and an eighth grader at Lincoln Junior High - all took their own lives by self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the space of less than three weeks in early 1999. The community was stunned by the tragedy.
"Almost every community in Oregon has dealt with the heartbreak of losing a young person to suicide," said Grant Higginson, M.D., state health officer at the Oregon Health Division, in April 2001, when the state launched a series of 14 regional forums to help communities implement youth suicide prevention strategies. "Approximately 75 youth die by suicide every year, and another 750 are treated for a suicide attempt. This is a stark reality, but it doesn't have to be that way."
As part of this effort, forums were scheduled in Bandon, Burns, Cottage Grove, La Grande, Monmouth, Redmond and Rogue River, and the Southeast Oregon Region forum (for Harney, Grant and Malheur counties) was held in Burns on May 22, 2001.