In a park in Ellensburg, a tree grows beside a small stream. Daniel Curtis DeHollander’s ashes lie beneath the roots.
DeHollander committed suicide here last July at age 18, just after graduating from high school. The tree is his memorial site.
DeHollander was a friend of mine, and like many, I've been trying to make sense of his death.
Most people don’t want to talk about death, especially suicide. And yet suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth. Rural teens like DeHollander are nearly twice as likely as urban teens to commit suicide, according to a recent medical study.
DeHollander was a lot of things. He was kind and exceptionally smart; his parents considered him to be in the realm of genius. He was sarcastic as much as he was serious and always held some dark, twisted humor up his sleeve. He skipped small talk and always went straight to the point. To his friends, including me, it seemed like DeHollander had it all.
His family saw a different side.
Daniel was struggling with depression. He first attempted suicide at age 14. His family sought help right away, and for the next four years, they thought things were going OK.
On July 10, 2014, Daniel's brother, Nick, came home to find his family sitting around the table, crying. Daniel was missing. Then they found a suicide note. Nick and his father, Guillermo DeHollander, went searching for Daniel. That's when Guillermo got a call.
"He didn't have to say anything," Nick said. "I could see the expression on his face change and I knew what had happened.
"As soon as he said something I just lost it."
"It felt as if a horse had kicked me right in the heart," Guillermo DeHollander recalled. "I can distinctly remember the feeling I had: The day seemed to go on forever after that moment. We all sat there outside on the porch. None of us knew what to do."
Since Daniel's death, his family has had to figure out how to cope with his death. They don’t want people to forget Daniel, and they don’t want anyone else to go through what they’ve experienced.
"Life is a gift and it can be changed and snuffed out in a second," Guillermo DeHollander said. His advice for other parents is to take any suicide attempt very seriously, and "just keep telling your child you love them, and that you would miss them if they did anything stupid."
Since his brother's death, Nick takes his friends' emotions "very, very seriously" and makes sure to be "available to them at all times if and when they want to talk."
His sister, Sara, attends suicide awareness events. She wants people to talk about her brother and his death.
"People don't want to bring it up because they're afraid to say something wrong or to hurt me," she said. "I'd rather have someone say something that’s wrong or hurtful than have people completely ignore the whole topic."
When I think of Daniel, the first thing that comes to mind is his favorite band, Pink Floyd.
After his death, a group of his friends and his sister all got tattoos. Many of them make reference to Pink Floyd’s album "Dark Side Of The Moon."
Sara's tattoo says, “Wish you were here Daniel.”
To keep Daniel's spirit alive, his mother, Stephanie Stein, testified for a bill on suicide awareness that passed the state Legislature this April and started a scholarship at Ellensburg High School for a college-bound senior who excels in math or science. It's called the Daniel DeHollander Memorial Scholarship.
Suicide Prevention Resources
- In King County: The Crisis Clinic, 866.427.4747
- Other suicide prevention hotlines in Washington state from Washington Information Network 2-1-1
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800.273.TALK (800.273.8255)
- University of Washington's Forefront