Okaloosa County Hosts First Bridge 2 Bridge Suicide Prevention Walk
The inaugural Bridge2Bridge Suicide Prevention Run/Walk will be held this Saturday in Okaloosa County. It will run from Brooks Bridge in Ft. Walton Beach to the Marler Bridge in Destin, beginning at 8am. WUWF’s Danielle Freeman spoke with the event’s organizer about how several tragic incidents in her own life turned into a mission to raise awareness about suicide prevention in the community.
“Suicide has been my whole life.”
Caressa Conway says it started when she was a young girl, “ My father committed suicide, my step-father committed suicide, my beloved half committed suicide, I’ve tried to commit suicide, my daughter tried to commit suicide. Suicide has been our life.”
Conway, known to her friends as Kris, says her own personal struggle with suicide intensified when her “beloved” Michael Gieber killed himself a decade ago.
Conway says they were arguing that day. While she knows in her heart that’s not the reason behind his death, she can’t help blaming herself, “I opened the front door and screamed for him. He didn’t answer me so I threw on my shoes and I followed after him. So, I went up to the hill and started to talk to him and he kept saying he’s sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. He didn’t tell me what he was doing he just kept saying I’m sorry. I got frustrated and said I’m just going to go home.”
Conway says they lived in a smaller neighborhood at the time with about twenty houses nearby. And, instead of leaving the area’s park and going home she sat down on the railroad ties to wait for Gieber, “I went and picked a flower off the side, so I was getting ready to go up and say I’m sorry. And, there was the gunshot. So, when I ran up to him, and I picked him up to hold him I was screaming for help the whole time. Not a single person in that town opened their door. Not a single person come to help. I was screaming at the top of my lungs and finally he gurgled and he took his last breath in my arms.”
Both Conway and Gieber were enlisted in the Army and had returned from the war in Iraq. Conway says returning to life stateside after being in a war zone had its difficulties, and after only being home for ten months, Gieber shot himself on July 31st 2005, “The war in Iraq was really intense. A lot of our soldiers came back very, very, very messed up. And, they weren’t getting the support that they needed through the services that the military give or they swept it under the rug and said it’s all going to be ok, you’re just getting back, you’re trying to adjust. That’s not it. It’s so much deeper than that because of PTSD. Everybody labeled PTSD as something minor, it’s not something minor. That goes into depression that goes into you know everything else that leads to it.”
According to the 2013 statistics from The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, after Cancer and heart disease, suicide accounts for more years of life lost than any other cause of death.
To raise awareness of this epidemic, Conway began organizing the event calling it the ‘Michael GieberBridge2Bridge Run/Walk for Suicide Prevention: Building a Bridge Out of Darkness’ in his honor.
Also, Conway has partnered with The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the suicide prevention center in Okaloosa County and the local chapter of the Wounded Warriors Project, with any proceeds raised from t-shirts or donations benefitting these organizations, “For ten years I have fought suicide myself very deeply. And, with Michael’s death, being his ten year, I wanted to do something special. And, I said ok, let’s do this, because let’s bring two communities together out there. I mean Destin’s part of us, Ft. Walton is where we’re at. So, let’s bring the two communities together and stand up and say ok we can’t be silent no more. Because that’s the big thing is suicide is very quiet.”
The 4-and-a-half mile route of the Bridge2Bridge Run is along Highway 98 between the two spans. Volunteers from the Choctaw High School Girls Soccer Team and several retired Sheriff Officers known as “Posse Members” will be at the rest stops handing out water bottles and offering words of encouragement. At noon, there will be a gathering at Beasley Park for refreshments and for participants to share their stories.
Again, Kris Conway, “I’m not looking to change the world, but I’m looking to make a footprint. And, somebody has to start somewhere.”
The Bridge2Bridge Suicide Prevention Run/Walk will begin at 8am, with participants meeting at the Waffle House on Okaloosa Island. For information go to Facebook.com/Bridge2BridgeFWB or on Twitter @_bridge2bridge