Holiday mood turns from celebratory to sorrowful

phjeffburkheadWhat started out as a weekend of fun holiday activities in both Meeker and Rangely, suddenly turned tragic.
As reports began coming out, first, of the homicide in Rangely, and then about the suicide in Meeker, the mood changed from one of celebration to sadness.
News of the homicide spread slowly, as information was limited. It was several days before authorities released the names, but around town rumors of a murder circulated quickly. Making the case even more bizarre was that it involved a father — Jerry Snider Sr., the victim — and a son, Jerry Snider Jr., who was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
In Meeker, Bren Sullivan’s suicide — on the same day his fellow 1977 Meeker High School graduates gathered to celebrate class members turning 50 — sent shock waves through the community. Bren would have turned 50 on July 16.
“We were having such a wonderful, fun time,” said Ginny Love, a member of the ’77 class. “It’s just unbelievable that it had to end the way it did.”
News of Bren’s death stunned his classmates.
“We are trying so hard to cope with Bren’s loss. We just can’t believe it,” Ginny said. “No one saw it coming. He was fine, and then he was gone. Outwardly, nobody knew the troubles he had.”
After riding in the Range Call parade, members of the ’77 class had convened at Dave Morlan’s place for dinner when they heard the news.
“I’m just so glad we were all together up at Dave Morlan’s when we found out about Bren,” Ginny said. “It helped.”
“It just shocked the hell out of us,” Dave said. “You never know what’s going through someone’s mind.”
The news about Bren was a sobering reminder of the fragility of life.
“It’s kind of a wake-up call for all of us,” Ginny said. “You don’t know from one minute to the next. Suicide is never an answer. It’s an issue that is tough to deal with. It’s such a huge loss.”
Members of the ’77 class have remained close through the years, but both Ginny and Dave said Bren’s death would bring members even closer together.
“There were a lot of us who have gone to school together since day one,” Ginny said. “Our class is extremely close, just like family.”
“Now that we lost a good buddy, there are always friends to call,” Dave said. “If anybody ever got to that point, they need to call one of their friends. That’s why we’re here, to stick together.”
Kai Turner was not a member of the ’77 class — he graduated from MHS in 1980 — but he and Bren became good friends as they got older.
“A bunch of us wrestled in that era,” Kai said. “Then as we got older, we hunted and fished together.”
The last time Kai saw Bren was about a week and a half ago.
“He seemed like he was always a little worried about something,” Kai said.
Questions about what caused Bren to take his own life left his classmates and friends confused and seeking answers.
“Life is so complicated sometimes, but I just can’t comprehend how you could get to that point,” Ginny said. “There just has to be some answers, because right now all there is are questions.”
“You struggle with what to feel,” Kai said. “It’s a tough deal. You never really have the answer. We’ll probably never know exactly (why Bren killed himself). I sure don’t.”
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Colorado consistently ranks among the top 10 states for suicide death rates, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In 2005, Colorado ranked sixth nationally.
To put it in perspective, more people die in Colorado by suicide than die by homicide or in motor-vehicle crashes.
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Locally, Colorado West Regional Mental Health, with offices in Meeker and Rangely, offers help in situations involving suicide, said Margot Robb, program coordinator in Meeker.
“We will not intrude on families if they do not ask for our help, but we do offer 24-hour emergency services, counseling to help family members and friends with the grief that comes with this type of death,” Robb said.
Suicide is the 11th cause of death in the United States.
“It affects us all,” Robb said. “If the public is made aware of the warning signs through education, it will enhance prevention efforts.
“Unfortunately, the stigma of seeking help for depression continues to be a problem. We could reach more people if they understood depression needs to be treated and assistance sought, just like you would a broken bone or other type of medical issue.”
Robb said the signs to be aware of to help prevent suicide include:
• Inability to sleep
• Overwhelming emotional pain
• Lack of coping skills or loss of coping skills
• Changes or loss in a person’s life
• Talking about death more frequently
• Giving away objects of special nature to the person
• Hopelessness
• Feelings of guilt, shame, negative thinking, self-criticism
• Changes in personality, agitation, restlessness, anger, apathy, lack of interest in normal activities, etc.
• Withdrawing from work or family obligations
• Lack of hygiene or self-care
• Substance abuse: Using alcohol or drugs to mask feelings
“I think it is most important to understand that this can affect all of us, and by reaching out to people when we notice they are sad, acting differently, asking for help or look like they need help is the gift we can give each other,” Robb said. “Seek information, don’t be afraid to call a professional if you are concerned about yourself or someone else. We are all human.”
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A DUI checkpoint was held last Friday night in Meeker, a joint effort between the Colorado State Patrol, the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office and Meeker Police Department.
“The checkpoint went well. A total of 210 cars were stopped,” said Sgt. Scott Elliott of the Colorado State Patrol. “At times, when the line started to build up, traffic was routed around the checkpoint to avoid traffic delays. There were three DUI arrests in the checkpoint itself, as well as an arrest for driving under restraint and there was also a warrant arrest.
“There was a DUI arrest made by a trooper just before the checkpoint started, and there were two DUI arrests during the saturation patrol,” Elliott added. “There were three additional arrests for driving under restraint during the saturation patrol, one of which was for aggravated-habitual traffic offender (revocation), which is a felony.”
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Meeker Police Chief Bob Hervey said local rancher Gus Anderson has been cited for a load height violation in the incident that caused a power outage June 20.
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I mistakenly mentioned in last week’s column that Deni Saucedo (formerly Back) was in town for her 20th high school reunion. She and other members of the 1998 MHS graduating class celebrated their 10th high school reunion last year. My apologies to Deni.
I blame the mistake on my age, not hers.
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Deni said her husband, Daniel, who was seriously injured last July while leading a mission during his fourth tour of duty in Iraq, is doing better.
“We’re hoping he’s had his last surgery,” Deni said. “Once the doctors clear him, we’ll head back to Fort Hood (Texas).”
Daniel hopes to stay in the military.
“He would like to stay in,” Deni said. “He’ll have to go through the medical board and they evaluate you to see what your disability is.
“He’s come a long way in the past year,” Deni said of her husband’s recovery. “He’s up and walking. They’re creating desk jobs for wounded warriors. He doesn’t want to be put out of the Army. That’s what he knows. He wants to make it a career.”
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Gus Halandras of Meeker put a unique spin on the newspaper’s efforts to balance coverage between the two rival towns in the county.
“It’s like being married to two women,” Gus told me. “You don’t know which one to please.”
It may not be a good sign then that I’m divorced.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at jeff@theheraldtimes.com.