Lethal Impulse

Teens who die by suicide aren't around to see the havoc their deaths create.

Parents end up on antidepressants, siblings mutilate themselves, friends languish in counseling, families split apart.

Fewer teens would harm themselves, suicide experts say, if they could foresee the despair of their loved ones. But suicidal teens tend to have tunnel vision.

"They're so surrounded by their pain, they can't see the devastation they're going to leave behind, " said David Carlson, an Omaha police officer and local suicide prevention leader.

Lacie Glasgow, 15, knew when she killed herself that her mom would feel guilt. Like other teen suicide victims, Lacie tried in her note to comfort her.

"Mom, I know you're going to blame this on yourself, but it's not your fault, " she wrote. "I simply feel like it's time for me to go."

Lacie shot herself in her stepdad's house in Lincoln. She died on a Tuesday, May 22, 2001. Her final words brought little comfort.

Her mother, Valerie Knobel, once worked closely with mental health patients. Her typical parental guilt was compounded by the feeling that she, out of anyone, should have seen this coming.

Lacie's brother was the last person to see her alive. He carried the guilt of not stopping her death. The burden was so crushing that Valerie feared for his safety. He abused drugs and just drifted. At one point, Valerie had him admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

"It's only now, in the last several months, that he's been able to have a goal and stay with it, " she said.

Valerie is an art teacher at Doane College, but she no longer creates much because her artistic expression has been so affected by her daughter's death four years ago.

"The most important thing in my life was raising my kids, " she said. "I failed."

David Carlson, the police officer, understands Valerie's anguish.

He came home on a Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2003, to discover that his 13-year-old son, Thomas, had shot himself. Thomas' suicide note read as if he were writing it from heaven. He said he was in a better place, wrote "The Lord's Prayer" and traced his left hand as if to say goodbye.

It didn't help. David plunged into despair. For a month, he couldn't sleep without chasing Tylenol PM and NyQuil with vodka and orange juice. Later, it was ice cream and Taco Bell at all hours.

He began working with the Yellow Ribbon suicide prevention campaign. Talking to people, especially children, about the stormy aftermath of suicide offered him a chance to help others.

On patrol, David told people threatening suicide how their actions would harm others. He told them about his son. It seemed to help.

His grief endures. A therapist told him it will never go away.

On Mother's Day, his heart literally broke. David, 44, suffered a heart attack. He linked it to his 18 months of anguish. To the 18 months since he lost Thomas.

But David discovered something else about himself on Mother's Day. He asked an emergency room nurse to pray. Lying on the hospital gurney, his wife, Laura, and older son, Matt, at his side, David asked: "Lord, please don't let me die."

Not long ago, David would have prayed to join Thomas. He would have prayed to die.

"Dad, " Matt told him at the ER. "We can't take losing another family member."

This week, David was healing at home.

"Thinking of my own son's suicide every day for 1 1/2 years ... it didn't kill me, " David said. "God wants me here still."