Editor’s note: If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.
West Desert • On Saturday morning, in this dusty, desolate stretch of western Utah where usually only the billboards for casinos stand above the endless acres of sagebrush, 125 people came to take a walk.
By 10 a.m., they were 50 miles away from where they were going. Halfway there. By noon, they wondered if they’d make it to the next nearest town.
But they plugged in headphones blaring songs by Journey and Tom Petty and AC/DC. They wiped away tears, mingling for a moment with drops of sweat. They re-laced Nikes and Adidas with names scrawled in black marker and in memoriam on the soles. And they kept moving.
They came out here to the middle of the desert to raise money for suicide prevention because they all know someone who has died.
“We want to help other families,” said Wendy Segelke, who lost her son, Dacoda Ellis, in March 2018.
“We’re walking through the pain,” added her husband, David.
The families began walking Friday, starting in Tooele, and will end their march in Wendover by Saturday night — roughly 100 miles later and at the border of Nevada. This is the fifth year they’ve weathered blisters and sunburns and bee stings and sore muscles to collect more than $50,000 from sponsors to go toward awareness campaigns and counseling services for their small western community.
Their path crosses most of the width of Tooele County, winding along an empty frontage road next to Interstate-80 and past pools of water at the edge of the Great Salt Lake.
Each year, the capital city of Tooele sees roughly 10 suicide deaths; and the county leads Utah in the rate of hospitalizations for suicide attempts.
“It’s important to show people we’re out here,” said Toni Broadhead. “They need to see there is hope.”
Broadhead’s nephew Kody died by suicide in 2005 — and Saturday marked the 14-year anniversary. He played football for Stansbury High School, she said, and loved spending time with his younger brothers. He was 22 years old.
She wore a small silver necklace with “Kody” on a circle charm. Others wore T-shirts with the names of those they were here for printed on the back.
Michele Snow came to walk for herself. She has battled depression most of her life and attempted suicide last May. She was taken to the hospital and is now recovering with treatment.
“I’m thankful that I’m still here,” the 51-year-old said. “I need other people to know there’s a reason to be here, too.”
Her brother, Troy, died by suicide when he was 49. That and the loss of a close friend to cancer sent Snow spiraling, she said. “It’s hard. I wish they were here to walk with me.”
Snow walked 23 miles Friday and said it has been “very, very healing.” She reflected on memories of her brother as she stepped over patches of tall yellow grass growing up through cracks in the asphalt. He loved butterflies and was the guitarist in a Christian rock band.
The Segelke family, too, said they’ve thought about Dacoda as they’ve walked. David Segelke remembered how he cleaned his grill a few summers ago with a pressure washer. He went inside their house in Tooele for a minute, and Dacoda decided to write his name in the mud with the washer.
When Segelke came back outside, the grill was splattered.
“What happened?” he asked.
Dacoda shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Then Segelke saw Dacoda’s name in the mud, and they both laughed.
“He wouldn’t have made a good criminal,” added his mom, Wendy, as she stood smiling on the road Saturday listening to the story.
Laura Julander came to remember her husband, Timothy — who died by suicide in August 2015 and loved the movie “Tommy Boy.” Kristin Culley was there for her neighbor Leroy— who she knew for 22 years and went fishing with at Grantsville Reservoir. Chuck and Wendy Kobal walked for their son, Andrew —who was an Air Force veteran and someone who “could argue with a rock and win.”
Some had lost family when they were young. One woman’s friend died a month ago. A mother said her daughter suffered from depression and is now getting help.
“I feel like if she can overcome that, I certainly can come out here and walk,” noted Jody Johnson. “I’ve lost two toenails on this trail, but I’ve raised $1,445.”
The group trudged on through the desert for hours Saturday, passing empty train cars and tossing water bottles under a cloudless blue sky. For most of the day, they saw no one but each other, people who knew what they’ve been through.
That was enough to encourage them to walk forward.