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Turning tragedy into triumph

Andrew Rios poses with his mom DianKoley. Rios took his own life Aug. 16 2002 15 years old.  |

Andrew Rios poses with his mom, Diana Koley. Rios took his own life Aug. 16, 2002, at 15 years old. | Submitted

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To help

What: The Suicide Prevention Services Here for Life Bike and Custom Car Poker Run

When: Registration and breakfast start at 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14

Where: Amvets Post 103, 1194 Jericho Road, Aurora

Cost: Poker Run entry is $15 a driver, $10 a passenger, with the first car heading out at 11 a.m.

Other: All riders and passengers will be entered in a raffle. Food and drink will be available for purchase, along with a band, 50/50 raffle and other fun.

Contact: Learn more about Suicide Prevention Services at 800-273-8255.

To make a donation:

Updated: September 11, 2013 9:43AM

Looking back, the signs were all there.

The bullying, the withdrawing, the trouble in school.

He was fighting with his girlfriend, cleaning out his room — and, he planted that rose bush.

On Mother’s Day in 2002, Andrew Rios picked out something special for the woman who had given him life: a rose bush. Although it took his mom, Diana Koley, three months to get the 15-year-old, soon to be freshman, to plant it.

“I kept asking, ‘Are you going to plant it?’” the North Aurora mother recalled. Then, on the week of Aug. 16. He finally did.

“That week, he did the strangest things,” Koley said. “Now, I know they were signs.”

Rios hanged himself in the family’s garage the night of Aug. 16, 2002, the week before school started — just after planting that bush, just after taking all the photos off the walls in his room, and inviting friends to go fishing for the night.

Eleven years later, the reality of the situation still hits Koley like a ton of bricks.

“I struggle myself, even now, with depression after losing my son,” she said. “People say it will go away, but it doesn’t.”

In the wake of her loss, Koley found comfort in knowing she was not alone. Someone had pointed her in the direction of a small, local safe haven that allowed her wounded heart to connect with others who had experienced similar tragedy.

Suicide Prevention Services aims to reduce suicide risk and completions through public education, depression screening and early identification and intervention before a crisis. It began in 1982 as a self-help group and has evolved to offer more services, including workshops, training, a call center and counseling.

“(SPS) wasn’t even on my radar, but I am glad they were there,” she said. “It made me feel not so alone.”

Which is why parents like Koley and others affected by the tragedy are giving back.

According to recent statistics, 20 percent of deaths among young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 years old come by their own hand. It is a sad reality, Koley said, many parents don’t want to face.

“It is still hard,” she said. “This is 11 years later, and I don’t think it ever gets easier to talk about.”

But, she does talk, and she talks loud and proud, because she knows that is what it takes to keep others from living her nightmare.

“It is so important to get awareness out,” Koley said.

She does still think about the what-ifs.

“I kept asking myself, ‘Why?’ Why didn’t you ask for help? Why didn’t you say something?”

Despite her loss, Koley didn’t hide what happened.

“I guess that was my way to help and hopefully save another child,” she said. “My way to prevent another family from having to live this life. Because, it changes your life. It changed (my) mind. You will never be the same. Eleven years later, and it still feels like yesterday.”

When Koley found SPS, she found some sort of solace, knowing that she could also push through in the way others had.

“Without them, I would have felt alone,” Koley said. “But, you are not alone, there is support. Losing someone in any way is horrible and hard, but trying to understand the ‘why’ of suicide makes it even harder.”

Through her work with SPS, Koley has been able to reach out to those in need. She talks to young people who are struggling and those suicide has left behind.

But, she is also putting her money where her mouth is, and has realized that needs can only be met when they have the support they deserve. This is why Koley is inviting others to join the call to action — and have some fun doing just that.

Koley is hosting the Here for Life Bike and Custom Car Poker Run event Saturday to raise money for SPS.

“Anyone is welcome,” Koley said. “It’s not just for motorcycles. My sister is driving her Honda.”

Stephanie Weber, executive director of Suicide Prevention Services, said that fundraisers don’t only bring in money to the agency but bring attention to the ever-growing problem of suicide.

“The more people that are aware of our agency, then the more people who need our services will know that we are here,” she said.

Koley hopes the organization can continue to give the same help she received to others.

“If I can raise a couple thousand dollars, well, it is more than they had before,” she said. “Hopefully, it helps in some way.”

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