McCOOK, Neb. -- Tyler, your mom's death is not your fault. You're not a loser. Put your faith in God.
Shannon wrote back to the boy in her eighth-grade science class. Feel better, she implored shy, self-conscious Tyler Bieck.
It wasn't easy for Shannon Moore to read his pain, to see bleakness poured out in print: How low he felt. How desperate. How much he wanted to kill himself, as his mom had done the year before.
Until now, this bubbly, pretty girl had no idea her quiet classmate struggled like this.
No one did.
Tyler would spend the after-school hours at home searching for the keys to Dad's gun cabinet. Unsuccessful, he would retreat to the basement, kitchen knife in one hand. Notebook and pen in the other.
Tyler reached for the pen. He reached for Shannon, a girl with honey-brown hair, whom he hardly knew. But he sensed compassion in Shannon. A kindness.
Shannon would become the first of many in McCook to reach back.
"There's a reason all this happened, " Shannon would write. "God loves you."
And later: I love you.
It wasn't romance. Shannon wanted him to know she cared. Cared enough -- despite his plea -- to tell an adult.
Her mom wrote Tyler, urging him to talk to his dad, a pastor, an adult.
"I hope you can find happiness. . . . You've been through a lot."
Tyler kept writing Shannon, and he began talking to the junior high counselor. He had urged Tyler to go out for a sport, get involved.
Gradually, Tyler's spirits lifted. He hardly noticed when the tears didn't fall as readily.
Junior high dances beckoned, and Tyler went.
Ninth grade came, and Tyler got busy.
Too small to play football, Tyler taped ankles. Went out for basketball and made the B team freshman year. Served as team trainer the next three years for football and basketball. Played golf for the McCook Bison.
Shy Tyler became funny, outgoing, reliable Tyler. Everyone called him "Bieck, " pronounced like a bird's bill.
Sophomore year, Bieck got voted class president -- a title he would win two more years. As a senior, he was homecoming king and orchestrated the end-of-theyear prank. Bieck and his pals took off the back doors of McCook High and parked his 1989 red Plymouth Sundance in the hallway in front of Principal Jerry Smith's office.
Nobody minded. The adults admired Tyler, too.
Dad liked how Tyler helped out younger teens.
Basketball Coach Joel Hueser counted on Bieck to be there for his players. Principal Smith, who lived two houses away from Bieck, called the boy "deep."
The grownups also worried. They knew Tyler missed his mom terribly. They knew his mom was one of 12 suicides in Red Willow County from 1997 through 2002. The others included a classmate's dad and two teenage students.
McCook High had the crisis drill down. Every teacher read the same statement at the beginning of class. Counselors stood ready.
Tyler didn't seek their advice.
"Block these things out, " he thought. "Stay busy."
Tyler kept his grades up and squeezed in two Christian youth groups: the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and The Pepper.
Faith had taken on new meaning. The Biecks belonged to Evangelical Free as long as Tyler could remember.
But believing, now, was easier. So many at school reinforced God.
"You've been faithful to your church. You've been faithful to your peers, " Coach Hueser wrote him at Christmas. "Most importantly, you've been faithful to Christ! Keep it up, brother."
Devotion gave Tyler a language for his feelings. Depression became Satan. Meaning, purpose and hope: Jesus.
"It's really vital for me to be with Jesus and rebuke Satan every time he tries to get into my mind, " Tyler wrote on a note he passed Shannon during history class junior year. "He has made me feel worthless and lonely, and he has no right to do this."
"I know that God will work it all out, " Shannon answered.
"I get so down on myself, " he wrote Shannon. "I'm not a '#1' friend to anybody. . . . It's so easy for me to get hurt, I know it's stupid but I still hurt."
"Tyler, I know how you feel -- I kinda feel like that sometimes too, " Shannon scribbled back. "Yeah, it does hurt. But Tyler, everyone loves you. You are a great, cool dude."
Everyone knew his heart and its hole.
Tyler poured himself into McCook High's newspaper, The Stampede. He was opinion editor and had a regular column called Between You and Me.
"A good friendship is all anybody needs, " he wrote in one. "Without the love I have received from all my friends, all of you, I probably wouldn't have gotten to write this."
In another, he urged people to put aside grudges -- before it's too late.
"I was lucky enough to give my mom a hug and tell her that I loved her, " he wrote. "I don't have to live with the burden of having our last conversation be a feud between us and I could never wish that on anybody."
He told everyone he thought of death constantly. He told everyone he searched for life's purpose. He told everyone, wryly, he wanted a girlfriend.
"Before I leave you, " Tyler wrote, "I just want ALL of you to know that you ALL are very important to me and you ALL are great. And I'm still single."
He named that column: "You never know what's coming."