News Article Details

Mesa students riveted by mom's account of her son's suicide

Tribune - 10/3/2018

Oct. 02--The east Mesa charter students were riveted as LeAnn Hull spoke about the worst day of her life -- the day her son, Andy, 16, came home from school and took his life.

After she recounted the Dec. 11, 2012 incident and spoke of how she's devoted her life to preventing others from following in his footsteps though her Andy Hull'sSunshine Foundation, the students responded to the gut-wrenching presentation with gut-wrenching admissions of their own.

One boy told Hull how he had attempted suicide twice. A girl confessed how she feared her own actions may have contributed to another person considering suicide. A third described how an online friend had written about the possibility of committing suicide several times.

Hull spoke to all these students privately after her presentation at Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center's Red Mountain campus, hoping to refer them to mental health professionals.

She readily admits that she is not a psychologist or a social worker, just a grieving mother on a mission to save lives -- a mission she finds therapeutic and satisfying at some times, frustrating at others.

Hull's presentation came as a rash of teen suicides continues to plagued the East Valley. Three young people have taken their lives this month -- including a Higley freshman who shot himself just hours after Hull had given her presentation.

At least 19 East Valley teens have taken their lives since July 2017.

While some schools have been open to her presentations, others have not been so welcoming, Hull said.

Hull said presentations like hers are only one part of a long-term strategy needed to discourage teens from completing suicide, another being training educators on how to recognize early warning signs. She views herself as a catalyst who can connect students with professional services.

"I can't bring my son back. The most I can do is honor his life by saving another life," Hull said. "I hear things and I see things that everyone else doesn't. I have a hyper-sensitivity to it."

Her message to her students is that their lives matter -- to their parents, their friends and society. "Let's listen a little better, look a little deeper and connect," she said.

The students seemed focused on Hull's presentation.

Ray Gless, the school's administrator, said they asked for presentations to learn more about bullying and teen suicide, two social issues that concern them.

Dustin Smith, 17, said she experienced suicide within her family when she was younger.

"I would love to be engaged to deal with it," Smith said. "I think I learned most of all that everyone is vulnerable." "It's better to be safe than sorry," Smith said. "You get so focused, you get tunnel vision in life, it's mostly about school."

Hull described during the presentation how her son, a talented left-handed pitcher for the Sandra Day O'Connor High School baseball team, seemed to have everything going for him.

She said Andy had been scouted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Kansas City Royals, and prestigious college baseball teams. She said he got mostly A's and B's in his classes in school.

"He was just a joy, he really was an awesome kid," she said. "He just oozed a love of life. He loved sports in general."

But there also were warning signs that were missed. Andy told two of his friends that he was contemplating suicide a week before he took his own life. His friends told no one.

She said Andy had broken up with a serious girlfriend and that he had received a bad grade from a language arts teacher, which made him worry that he might not be able to play anymore on the baseball team.

Hull said Andy made a troubling, cryptic statement to her, saying if she knew what he was thinking, it would scare her. It was a warning sign, Hull said, and she missed it.

"It wasn't one thing that caused Andy to take his life. It was a multitude of things. There were a multitude of things that could have been done," Hull said.

She urged the teens to develop coping skills so that they can find peace during difficult times, whether its music, or reading or exercise.

"I am here to tell you about failures and losses and how important they are to establish your emotional resiliency," Hull said. "Without the clouds, we don't appreciate the sun."

Hull, a mother of four who operated a construction company and ran unsuccessfully for Congress, said her son's suicide was overwhelming.

At one point, she put a gun to her own head. Another time, she sat in her a car at an intersection, trying to work up the nerve to pull out in front of a large truck in an attempt to take her own life.

But Hull said she eventually recognized that she needed psychological help to deal with her own loss and needed to ask for it.

In her quest to save others, Hull has found a sense of purpose in her own life.

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(c)2018 East Valley Tribune (Mesa, Ariz.)

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