Parents fight stigma after son’s suicide

Ottawa County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — At 3 p.m. Wednesday, surrounded by friends and family and with his favorite music playing, 14-year-old Triton Thomas was taken off life support. He had taken his own life.

Teen suicide is a national tragedy — it’s the second leading cause of death among the age group — but we rarely talk about specific cases. Triton’s parents decided it was important to share his story in the hopes that no one else has to suffer as they have.

Triton’s organs were harvested at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids to save the lives of as many as eight people waiting for transplants. His mom said that’s just the kind of thing Triton would do.

“He talked about how he knew that he wanted to do that because he knew and I knew that he would be able to save lives,” Triton’s mom Fory Gendron said a few hours before her son was taken off life support.

Triton was born Jan 12, 2005.

“He was born with a little crescent moon on his hand, that’s why I called him Triton after Neptune’s moon,” Gendron said.

At 14, he was nearly 6 feet tall. He played football at Kelloggsville Middle School before transferring to Allendale Public Schools in November.

“He wanted to be a zoological architect, but then he changed and wanted to be a police officer to protect people,” his mom said.

He taught himself to play the guitar.

“He was this artistic, beautiful being and that’s why everybody loved him because he was unique,” Gendron said.

But on Friday at his home in Allendale, where he lives with his father and brothers, Triton hanged himself. He was discovered by his 4-year-old brother.

“I don’t think he really wanted to do this. I think he was trapped, because he wouldn’t want to do this and he wouldn’t want anyone else to,” Gendron said.

His mother believes he had been bullied and was unhappy about changing schools. She believes that led to his suicide.

There are no records for Triton or his family in court records. The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office says it hasn’t found any signs of bullying, though the investigation continues.

“We are going to follow every piece of information we get to see if we can get the answer but, no, at this time, we’ve not had anyone come forward with any specifics regarding bullying,” Allendale Public Schools Superintendent Garth Cooper said.

School officials say Triton was reportedly happy and joking with students as he rode the bus home Friday, only a couple of hours before taking his own life.

“It’s tragic that the face that you see … was masking some deeper feelings inside,” Cooper said.

Because the suicide of a student is something that happens all too often, there is a protocol in place that includes making counselors available to students and staff. Allendale has programs to stop bullying and resources students can turn to when they struggle, but getting students to use those resources can be a challenge.

“Just getting them to understand that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help,” Cooper said. “No matter what we’ve done, we can always do more.”

According to the Ottawa County Health Department, almost 20% of local teens seriously thought about suicide in the last year and 8% said they attempted suicide one or more times in that time period. That means that on average, in every classroom of 13- to 18-year-olds, five seriously thought about taking their own life. Of those five, two said they made one or more suicide attempts.

The superintendent admires Triton’s parents for making his struggle public.

“‘If we don’t help educate other kids, if we don’t do all we can to keep this from happening, then Triton’s life has been for naught and so we need to take something from this,'” Cooper said they told him.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention explains risk factors and warning signs for suicide at its website. 24-hour help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800.273.8255.

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