CHESTERTON | “Don't let your light dim. Let it shine.”
With those words on their T-shirts, family and friends of Kelsey Petersen prepared to walk Sunday in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk at Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve.
Petersen was 15 when she committed suicide in 2008. Her mother, Carly, is organizer of the local walk, which raises funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Now in its fifth year, the event draws hundreds of people, who release balloons into the air before heading out on a 3-mile trek through the woods. Many wear colored T-shirts with pictures of their loved ones and words of inspiration.
Kouts resident Verna Hallett lost her daughter, Jenna Marie O'Reilly, 20, to suicide in 2011. Jenna had been a straight-A student, was a “health nut,” and loved her cat, Rascal, her mother said.
Hallett walks each year to raise money for prevention, and this year, she received a surprise gift from a stranger.
“If you can save a life, that's what it's all about,” she said. “Somebody I didn't even know gave us a check for $200.”
Jim Mola, of Crown Point, walked for his sister, Sandy Mola, a Calumet Township resident who committed suicide in March at the age of 40.
Mola said there were no signs that his sister was contemplating suicide, and the call he received from his mother at 4 a.m. one morning was a shock.
“It was sudden,” Mola said. “We never expected it to happen.”
Valparaiso resident Shannon Hilley wore a T-shirt with a logo of Notre Dame football, the favorite team of her younger brother, John Anthony Ray.
Ray was 19 when he committed suicide a year ago to the day of the walk, on Sept. 15, 2012.
“Getting involved with an organization like this is helping me channel my grief,” Hilley said. “I couldn't prevent our loss, but I want to help someone else prevent theirs.”