KINGMAN - Deborah Harms isn't looking for answers about why her step-granddaughter Courtney Everton killed herself earlier this month.
As far as she can tell, there are none. While the 16-year-old girl led a troubled life, shuffled from foster care to relatives' homes in Colorado and Arizona while her mother served prison time, Everton seemed happy and full of energy on the outside. Only those who knew her well can guess at the 16-year-old's inner turmoil. Everton, who grew up in Kingman and moved to Cottonwood about a year ago to live with one of her sisters, didn't leave a note Aug. 2 detailing the reasons she decided to hang herself. Harms said Everton did confide her plans to a friend, who tried to talk her out of it but didn't share the information until it was too late.
A police investigation later determined there was no foul play surrounding the girl's death.
A memorial for Everton is scheduled for 1 p.m. Aug. 31 at Golden Valley Baptist Church, 100 S. Higley Road in Golden Valley. Not only will friends and family remember the girl's short life, they will hear about the warning signs of suicide and learn how to provide help to teens or adults who are in crisis. Harms printed the information on Everton's memorial program.
"Courtney had a memorial and viewing in Cottonwood but a lot of people from this area weren't able to make it," said Harms. "I want to help Courtney's friends have closure and educate them about the warning signs of suicide. When someone talks about committing suicide, it isn't a joke. It's a cry for help and it shouldn't be ignored because it can be fatal."
According to Teen Lifeline, a suicide prevention organization in Phoenix, nearly 26,400 teens in Arizona attempt suicide each year. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in Arizona, which ranks ninth in the nation for teen suicides.
Each year since 1985, Arizona has ranked in the top 10 states for teens who have committed suicide.
Suicide warning signs include statements indicating worthlessness or a desire for death, depression or sadness lasting longer than two weeks, sudden and drastic changes in personality, previous suicide attempts, excessive sleeping or grooming, giving away personal belongings that have special meaning and saying a final goodbye to family and friends.
Chelsea Dewitt, 13, whose mother was Everton's sister, said she and Everton were best friends and would spend time together every Sunday after church. Dewitt said that when Everton moved to Colorado several years ago and then to Cottonwood, their communication grew sporadic. But Everton had recently written to say she loved Dewitt very much.
"I was shocked and I cried so much when I found out about Courtney," said Dewitt. "I wish I could have talked to her. I would have told her that everything would be OK. I wish she would have called someone to get help."
Everton had threatened to commit suicide when she lived in Kingman, said Harms, but her foster parents at that time were able to intervene. Harms said Everton played sports in school and was a member of her church youth group, both in Kingman and in Cottonwood.
"If I can prevent one teen suicide through the information presented at Courtney's memorial, then some good will have come out of a tragic situation," said Harms. "I want to do something positive and show others that there are people out there who care and will help. We'll never forget Courtney, but her family and friends are devastated by her death. No one has to feel so hopeless that they commit suicide."
For more information about suicide or for help in dealing with suicidal thoughts, call Teen Lifeline at (800) 248-8336.