Awareness is awakening.

More than 1,000 people -- at least 400 more than last year -- assembled at Crossroads Park to show their support for suicide awareness during the annual "Breaking the Silence" walk along the Platte River Parkway on Saturday.

"I think we have a community that's waking up to this issue," said Traci Gardner, coordinator of the Natrona County Suicide Prevention Task Force.

"Everyone's always thought of it as a tragedy," Gardner said. "It''s not hitting the 'other community,' it's not hitting 'over there.' It's hitting right in our neighborhoods and our back yards."

Suicide doesn't discriminate. It doesn't choose people of certain ethnic or economic or social groups, she said.

Kelsey Wood, Alyssa Funk and Rylan Trout-Johnson know that.

The three Kelly Walsh High School freshmen walked the three miles together to remember and honor those they knew who committed suicide.

Kelsey and Alyssa wore T-shirts memorializing Julien Fujita, who died a year ago.

Suicide is far more common than people would like to think, Rylan said. "Everybody has a story, whether they like to share it or not," Rylan said.

Gardner said the task force works in the schools to train students to ask, refer and intervene before it becomes a crisis.

It provides QPR -- Question, Persuade, Refer -- training to teach people how to ask others if they're having thoughts of suicide, how to recognize the signs of suicide, what to do if the answer is "yes," and then where do they go for help.

The task force has even created and produced drink glass coasters made available in bars and liquor stores with information about suicide awareness, she said. "We know that substance use is linked to suicide."

The success of Saturday's walk highlights how suicide prevention has grown locally beyond individual attempts to raise awareness as the task force has drawn together representatives from multiple agencies and interest groups, Gardner said.

"We're trying to make an impact across the board," she said.

======================================================

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Casper resident Lance Neiberger lost his son to suicide nine years ago. He recently told K2 Radio suicide is like a monster in the closet that has power over us as long we don’t want to deal with it. “But if we can open that closet door and see that there’s something there that can be dealt with, then that monster doesn’t hold the power that it used to.”

K2 Radio will talk to others who have grappled with suicide and why it affects our communities and state so deeply.

And we will look what has and is being done to identify and tame this monster among us.