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Families walk in light for those lost to suicide

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Bruce Melan, left, Cole Rhoten, center, and Michelle Melan, right, walk in memory of Cole’s cousin and Michelle’s son John T. Deville Saturday morning during the Out of Darkness Walk to benefit suicide awareness along the Vidalia riverfront. Deville died in June of this year, and friends and family gathered to walk in his memory.

NATCHEZ — Suicide does not discriminate.

That is one thing Michelle Melan is certain to make sure everyone knows. After the death of her son, John Deville, on June 24, Melan said she wants others to know suicide can happen to any family.

“There are no stereotypes,” she said.

Melan chose to participate in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk Saturday at the Vidalia Riverfront to honor her son’s memory and let other families know that she knows their struggle.

“It’s hard, but we go on for them,” she said. “I want others to know that they are not alone.”

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Groups of people release yellow balloons into the air in memory of family or friends they lost to suicide Saturday morning during the fourth annual Out of Darkness Walk event at the Vidalia Amphitheater.

It was a difficult day for Melan at the walk, which came just one day after what would have been her son’s 19th birthday.

“My son was a good person, he loved to joke, and he loved everyone,” she said.

Susan Stephens found a smile through her tears as she remembered her son James Ray Knight, who she lost to suicide July 16.

“He had the biggest heart in the whole world,” she said.

Knight’s friends and family walked wearing shirts with Knight’s picture on the back that read “Your smile lives on.”

“That picture on the back of our shirts, that’s what we’ll remember,” Knight’s sister Penny Gorham said. “He was such a jokester, every day of his life.”

Knight’s pranks and goofy nature is what his sister Lucy Knight will keep in her heart.

“He was always smiling, always happy,” she said.

Knight’s death came as a shock to his family, and Stephens said Out of the Darkness helps spread awareness so people can reach out to troubled teens and adults.

That is exactly the mission of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the organization that sponsored the Out of the Darkness Walk.

Approximately 400 people marched as beacons of light for an issue that organizer Jan Lipscomb said was kept in the dark for far too long.

“For years it has been a touchy subject that people don’t want to talk about,” she said. “By bringing it out into the light, we are creating awareness and a support system.”

The walk raised approximately $2,400 Saturday and an additional $8,500 in the weeks leading up to it.

For more information on suicide warning signs or to seek help, visit afsp.org or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.