Colorado Springs parents share story of son’s suicide to help others

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When it comes to suicide, the focus is often on children and teens, but in El Paso County, it’s another age group taking their own lives at a startling rate. Young adults account for double the number of suicides than teens.

From 2013 to 2016, in kids ages 10 to 18 in El Paso County, 52 took their own lives. In that same time frame, 120 young adults ranging in age from 19 to 26 died by suicide.

FOX21 sat down with one Colorado Springs family who never thought their 26-year-old son, Ryan, would take his own life. They shared their heartbreaking story, using their hurt for others’ hope.

“He was a wonderful little boy.” Ryan’s mother, Betty Van Thournout said. “He was born on June 6th, 1988, just a few hours before my mother passed away on the floor above us in San Angelo, Texas.”

An immediate daddy’s boy, Ryan was glued to his father’s hip.

“Oh my gosh, he enjoyed his dad. They would play cars on floor for hours at a time, just a really sweet little boy, very easy as a young one,” said Betty.

Ryan’s father, Kevin Van Thournout said, “Ryan was funny. He loved to help other people so he was very giving, very kind, he just loved people.”

When Ryan was a year-and-a-half old, the Van Thournouts moved to England, where his sister Kirsten was born. Ryan and Kirsten grew up very close but when it came to school, the two were very different.

“Ryan was slow to learn as he grew older. He had a learning disability so a lot of special education through school,” said Kevin.

In 2002, they moved to Colorado Springs. Ryan was a seventh grader. School was a struggle for him and he dropped out more than once, but he pushed on and eventually graduated.

Ryan became a truck driver and met a girl, which led to marriage and two boys of his own.

“He was a great dad.” Betty said. “Oh my gosh, he was such a good dad. I worried about that when they told us they were pregnant with their first one, I thought ‘Oh Ry, I don’t know if you’re ready for this.'”

Everything seemed to be going in the right direction, but then Ryan and his wife’s relationship took a turn for the worst. They separated, she moved the kids to California, and left him alone and devastated.

Kevin and Betty knew the situation was difficult but they had no idea just how much Ryan was hurting.

“It was just a shock I’ve never experienced before,” said Betty.

Kevin said, “Ryan shot himself in the head on July 10th of 2014.”

Kevin describes depression as heavy blocks or weights carried on one’s shoulders and the weight just stacks up. He believes for Ryan, the first burden was his learning disability and the divorce was his last.

“In Ryan’s case I think it started as a teenager. Should we have sought help at that time, at the age of 16? Yes, yes we should have,” said Kevin.

It’s their biggest regret, never seeing how much pain Ryan was in.

Betty said, “I wish that I would’ve pushed. I wish that I would’ve asked the harder, deeper questions.”

“I wish Ryan would have been born with a book that I could’ve read ahead of time but as parents we just try to do the best we can with what we know”, said Kevin.

Since Ryan’s death, Betty has also battled with depression. It wasn’t until after she got help she realized some of the thoughts she was having were perhaps quite similar to what her son was thinking before he took his own life.

Betty said, “The thought of hurting myself crossed my mind daily and I didn’t know what to do with that so we immediately got in to see a provider who helped talk me through it.”

Between their support group, therapy, talking, and crying together as a family, they’re now slowly learning to live, never without Ryan but with his memories.

Kevin said, “When Ryan first completed Betty and I would wake up in the morning and I’d look at Betty and she’d look at me and I’d say, ‘Are you ready to take another step today?’ and she’d say, ‘Yes, let’s take another step today’.”

It’s something they hope no other family has to go through which is why they want Ryan’s story to be heard.

“Seek help. There’s a lot out there for suicide awareness, suicide prevention that I didn’t know about and I didn’t recognize the signs,” said Kevin.

If there was one thing they could say to Ryan right now…

“It would be that ‘Child, I miss you terribly. I miss you every day.’ But I also understand that his life on this earth was hard, he struggled, I understand that and it’s okay. It’s okay,” said Betty.

Kevin said, “I’d tell him I love him. I’ll always love him and I wish that I could’ve helped.”

Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention also says it’s only respectful to say “completed suicide” rather than committed.

The word committed is often associated with crimes. For example, the man is suspected of committing arson or a robbery was committed at a local bank.

The Van Thournouts also referred to their son’s death as “completed.” For Betty and Kevin, who are still learning to live in their new normal, it’s painful to think Ryan would be compared to a criminal.

According to the experts at Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention, not all suicides are because of mental health. Situational suicides often exist and if you look at the warning signs you’ll see most of the time it does involve specific situations.

If you see signs, even small ones, get a depression test or talk to someone. There are so many resources and people who want to help throughout southern Colorado.

Reach out to the Colorado Crisis and Support Line at 844-493-TALK. The line provides 24/7/365 free and confidential support.


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