Wyoming family follows long path to healing from suicide

Part of a four-day series on suicide in Wyoming.

By JACKIE BORCHARDT - Star-Tribune staff writer

The boxer shorts were one piece of the puzzle that didn’t fit.

Kameron Reichert, 17, walked around the house in his boxers as long as his parents could remember. His younger sister Kassidy used to pull them out of his dresser and layer as many as possible over her diaper.

But when the pair became teenagers, the boxers became annoying. Kameron used them to tease Kassidy — chased her around the house, waving his little shorts inches behind her. Kassidy refused to touch the couch after Kameron sat there in his boxers because he was too close to being naked.

No, her parents said, he’s not naked. He has his boxers on.

At home, Kameron lived in his boxers but hightailed it to his room to get dressed as soon as the doorbell rang.

He wouldn’t be caught dead in his skivvies.

So his parents doubted he meant to pull the trigger, meant to be found dead in his boxers on their bedroom floor.

“I don’t think he would have wanted someone to find him that way,” his mother, Cara Reichert, said. “I think he was mad and just wanted to see. Why he had to load the gun, I don’t know.”

***

Kameron Reichert died Dec. 10, 2008, in his Dayton home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

He didn’t leave a note. He didn’t show signs of depression. He didn’t leave a clue about what he was thinking.

But on the day Kameron died, he was angry.

Two weeks earlier, Kameron sped out of a parking lot and was promptly pulled over for suspicious behavior. Nearly 6 feet tall, Kameron drove his red Grand Prix with the seat reclined so far back he could barely see over the steering wheel.

The deputy sheriff searched his car, found tobacco products and issued him a citation.

Kameron played football, worked at the corner grocery store and chauffeured other kids between Dayton and Ranchester. He didn’t get into trouble.

Kameron told his parents a twisted version of events on Sunday. His parents ferreted out his lie and punished him on Tuesday night after giving him a chance to come clean. They revoked cell phone privileges and limited time with friends — a fairly light punishment for a teenager. Kameron didn’t think so.

He asked his parents to lessen his punishment. They stuck to it, and Kameron shut himself in his room.

On Wednesday morning, Craig and Cara went to work. Kassidy went to school. Kameron stayed home.

The school never called Craig nor Cara, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Paramedics estimated Kameron died soon after his family left the house.

Craig stopped at home for lunch with a co-worker. He saw Kameron’s car parked outside and called Cara to ask why their son didn’t go to school.

He talked to Cara as he walked inside the house and into the kitchen. A .22-caliber pistol that belonged to Cara’s grandfather lay on the table next to bullets for a different gun, the pistol that had once belonged to Craig’s favorite uncle.

No, it can’t be, Craig thought.

Craig walked past the kitchen into his bedroom and found Kameron, wearing just his boxers, in front of the full-length mirror. Craig called 911.

“On the phone with the dispatcher, I remember saying, ‘This doesn’t happen to families like us,’” Craig said. “I always thought it happens to families who have a lot of family problems.”

In the days and weeks after Kameron’s death, neighbors, friends and acquaintances told Craig they had been where Kameron had been. They had felt depressed. They had held the gun in their hand, deliberating whether to pull the trigger.

“People go to great lengths to hide their symptoms,” Craig said. “Unfortunately, I think they probably always will.”

The first week moved in slow motion. Hours felt like days. Kassidy lost her appetite. Craig wrecked a pickup at work.

“You have no concentration, you have no thought process,” Craig said.

“You don’t even feel like you can watch a movie and laugh, and if you did, you feel guilty about it,” Cara said.

***

Kameron’s family has spent the years since his death piecing together the story of that day and the days prior, searching for hints that could explain why everything happened the way it did.

They’ve learned they’re not alone.

Suicide is the No. 3 cause of death among American youth; it ranks second in Wyoming. About 17 percent of Wyoming high school students reported seriously considering suicide on a statewide behavior survey. The rate was slightly higher for girls.

Teenage suicides include some of the same factors as adult suicides — mental illness, depression, substance abuse, a triggering event.

However, the trigger for a teenager can seem insignificant to an adult, said Maureen Underwood, a licensed social worker and director of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide. Some kind of loss, such as breaking up with a boyfriend or getting in trouble at home or school — or with the police — can provoke youth who aren’t as resilient to setbacks.

“With an adult, you kind of know within a week you might feel better,” Underwood said. “Kids don’t have that kind of perspective.”

Tunnel vision. Putting your blinders on. Not seeing the light on the other side.

Teenagers and youth are also the only group at risk of copycat suicides, Underwood said.

“They copy each other in everything else that they do, so it’s not a surprise that they copy each other in this as well,” she said.

Nearly two years to the day Kameron Reichert died, his classmate Ethan Faurot killed himself. The two weren’t close, but Ethan’s mom told Cara Reichert that Kameron had always been nice to her son.

Ethan’s death surprised Cara, who remembered Ethan being upset and distraught over Kameron’s death. Ethan’s mother told Cara that he wondered how Kameron could put his family through that.

She said, “Obviously, he forgot.”

***

Soon after Kameron died, Cara asked Craig if he would be able to return to the house again, the wooden house with the green roof they built 15 years ago.

He said he hadn’t thought about it.

Relatives told them not to sell, that if they did, they would never be able to go back to where so many memories were made.

They moved home a few days later. The carpet had already been removed in Craig and Cara’s bathroom. They finished remodeling the kitchen.

Six months later, the Reicherts hosted an exchange student, which forced Cara to clean and repaint Kameron’s room.

In that time, she hadn’t even made his bed.

She began changing things, starting with Kameron’s favorite chair in the living room. She replaced the rest of the living room furniture, rearranged her bedroom, got rid of the minivan and bought a new car.

They kept Kameron’s car. Kassidy drives it.

Kameron hasn’t been forgotten.

Cara thinks of him when she stands by the kitchen sink or uses the pull-out faucet, which she bought especially for Kameron because he would skip the glass and angle his head under the tap to get a drink.

She thinks of him on weekend mornings, when Kameron, an early riser, would wake up and join her watching TV, but not really watching.

“Every day, I wake up and I just miss him, all the time,” Cara said.

The last photo of Kameron was taken two days before his death, the night before Cara’s birthday. Kameron and Kassidy are standing in the kitchen, smiling. They’re baking chocolate chip cookies for their mom’s birthday. Kameron doesn’t have his shirt on.

“I just giggled from the other room because I didn’t think I’d ever see them working together on something like that,” Cara said.

Cara doesn’t celebrate her birthday anymore. She takes the day off from work, from life, from everything.

The family also doesn’t celebrate Easter, arguably Kameron’s favorite holiday. Even at 17, Kameron searched for plastic eggs filled with cash and a basket of gifts.

When co-workers and classmates talk about their families, the Reicherts struggle with how to respond.

Kameron’s gone, but he is still their son, her brother.

His name is on the welcome sign next to the front door. His school and football pictures are framed in the living room. His music collection hasn’t been removed from the family computer.

“It’s hard to go further, but it’s hard not to acknowledge him,” Craig said. “I’m sure we’ll never find an easy way to do it.”

Kameron apparently told a couple of friends he intended to end his life, Cara learned later. They didn’t take him seriously.

She wished someone would have contacted her, said something — anything. But she doesn’t know if she and Craig would have taken them seriously.

“If I had been those kids’ age and a friend of mine had said something, I would have said, ‘You’re being dramatic,’” Craig said.

The Reicherts don’t blame anyone for Kameron’s death. Traversing through indeterminable grief, they’re past that point.

They’re reaching out.

Craig calls families like his, families that lost sons the same way he did. He wishes someone had called him. He leaves his name and phone number.

“If you ever need to just talk to somebody that has lived through it, I won’t keep anything from you.”

Some call back.

19. September 2011 by Jackie B
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