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Suicide awareness walk brings awareness
By By Jill Callison
Argus Leader Media

June 20. 2013 9:34AM
Bryan Wehrkamp turned to music to encourage his younger sister, Lyndsey.

In the song “Your Broken Fall,” he wrote, “We’ll be right here by your side, this is nothing you can’t fight. ... As you fall asleep tonight, you’ve never felt so alone, but trust me you’re so loved, you’ll be alright.”

“My sister was struggling with depression, and ... it was to encourage her,” says Wehrkamp, lead singer with the local band Avian.

“She hit a bunch of rough patches, and she eventually ended up taking her life.”

That was on Nov. 1, 2008. Since then, Wehrkamp and others who knew Lyndsey think of her often, dealing with emotions that come and go in waves.

“It’s something that I look back on, and I can’t really comprehend it, I still can’t,” says Corey Gross, who plays bass and sings backup vocals with Avian. He and Wehrkamp first met while growing up in Brandon and in 2008 were students at the University of South Dakota.

“When I got the call, I went over to get Bryan, and we drove from Vermillion to Sioux Falls. The next couple days were an emotional overload.”

The alternative rock group Avian, which includes Matt Bump of Pierre and Luke Volden of San Jose, Calif., formed more than four years ago. Lyndsey’s death two years earlier influenced the band’s purpose, described on its Facebook page as writing “music that can connect with others, no matter what facet of life one is going through.”

Avian will perform Saturday, June 22 during the second annual Step Forward to Prevent Suicide run/walk at Falls Park. Band members also will participate in the walk.

Last year’s event drew more than 700 people, delighting organizers, who had hoped for at least 250 participants, says Alissa Lennon, resource development director with the HelpLine Center.

This year also looks promising for a good turnout, she says.

“We’ve had 375 people register in advance, walkers and runners, and a lot of people will come out the day of the event,” Lennon says.

HelpLine Center staff decided in 2011 to host the run/walk for suicide awareness and education. “It’s important to connect individuals who are survivors and work on prevention and awareness,” Lennon says.

The first year’s larger-than-expected turnout solidified HelpLine staff’s feeling that such an opportunity was needed.

“There was a need in the community for people who have lost a loved one in similar experiences to remember their loved ones in a safe environment,” Lennon says.

Statewide, 139 deaths by suicide were reported in South Dakota in 2011. In 2012 in Minnehaha County, 30 deaths by suicide were reported.

“Part of the message we’re trying to share is that suicide touches people across age, race, gender, economic status, across the spectrum,” Lennon says. “It could happen to anybody.”

A remembrance ceremony takes place after the run/walk. People who have lost someone to suicide can fill out a card so the person’s name can be read aloud. Blue and yellow balloons will be released at the conclusion. Commemorative T-shirts, with blue and yellow balloons printed on them, also will be on sale.

No fee is charged for the walk, but donations are accepted, Lennon says. Services offered for suicide survivors through the Helpline Center include a newsletter, support group, nine-week educational/support class and someone to talk with 24 hours a day.

Avian will sing the song Wehrkamp wrote for his sister, “Your Broken Fall,” on Saturday at the run/walk, along with several other original compositions.

Not every song the band writes uses depression, suicide or sadness as its focal point, Wehrkamp says. But Avian has stayed true to its original purpose: connecting to others and striving to help them.

“Until we started playing music together, it’s hard to kind of find your place. In college, we were figuring it out,” Gross says. “We saw how our songs could impact people positively.”

Wehrkamp still experiences great sadness when he thinks of his sister Lyndsey and how her life ended, but he remembers what Gross’ mother once told him.

“(She) said to me, it’s good that we feel the bad days and the sad days because we weren’t ever meant to forget them,” he says. “Probably not a day goes by I don’t think about that. I’ve seen how much light has come from that dark time period, taking the bad and making something good out of it.”
WHAT: Helpline Center’s second annual Step Forward to Prevent Suicide run/walk and remembrance ceremony

WHEN: 8:30 a.m. checkin, 9 a.m. run/walk, followed by remembrance ceremony Saturdayjune22

WHERE: Picnic shelter on Falls Park’s west side

REGISTRATION: No cost, but donations are accepted. Register or donate at

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