Public invited to Feb. 22 suicide prevention workshop at Oak Grove Methodist

By BETH BUNCH,

Chloe Fitton loved to fish, was witty and sarcastic, had lots of friends and a great laugh and enjoyed spending time with her parents. She was an Oak Grove High School senior. In the wee morning hours of Nov. 2, 2016, Chloe took her own life.

Chloe had been the victim of cyber bullying by a 14-year-old at OGHS. He was arrested, sent to alternative school and given 60 days probation, and presumably able to walk the halls of the Lamar County school once again. Something their daughter would never do.

Because he was a minor, Chloe’s parents, Julianna and Robert, couldn’t be in the courtroom to face their daughter’s abuser and weren’t allowed to hear or read what was said. The records were sealed. They will never know.

The one thing they do know? If they can keep one parent from feeling the way they did that November morning and have in the days and months since, they will have succeeded.

In an attempt to familiarize other parents, friends and teachers about the possible signs of suicide, Julianna and Chloe’s best friend’s mom, Shannon Sterling, have joined forces – hands and hearts to bring suicide to the forefront.

With the assistance of the Men’s Club at Oak Grove United Methodist Church, Fitton and Sterling are hosting a workshop – Suicide Prevention Education. The event is set for 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at Oak Grove UMC, 4915 Old Hwy. 11, in Oak Grove.

This free presentation is for parents and community members 18 years old and older.

The “More Than Sad” workshop, developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, teaches how to recognize depression and other mental health problems, how to initiate a conversation with children and how to get him or her help if needed.

Following Chloe’s death, the women, along with Sterling’s daughter and Chloe’s best friend, Raven, attended a similar type event on the Gulf Coast.

“We felt we needed to bring something like this to Hattiesburg,” Sterling said.

Fitton recently attended State Capitol Day in Jackson where she and other parents and friends served as advocates and voices for loved ones lost to suicide. In Mississippi, someone commits suicide every 20 hours.

“My main goal is to be Chloe’s voice,” said Fitton. “After I went back to work a lady came up to me and said, ‘I know what you’re going through.’ I just looked at her and then she told me her daughter, a student at Presbyterian Christian, had also committed suicide. She was also bullied.

“I’m a firm believer that the young lady from PCS and Chloe won’t be the last ones, not until we get a handle on this situation. We need more laws to keep up with the technology that’s going on today.”

She talked of Wisconsin, where ordinances and fines are starting to be assessed on parents whose children are found guilty of social media bullying.

Fitton and Sterling both believe that Mississippi and the country need more laws in place to protect children. “We’ve got to get stiffer laws,” said Fitton.

Suicide among children ages 10-24 is the second leading cause of death in Mississippi.

“It’s high,” said Sterling. “And we don’t hear about suicides. The only reason we heard about Chloe’s is because a minor was arrested. On one hand I feel for Robert and Julie. It has to be extremely hard to see the face of the child you’ve just lost plastered all over the TV, but then again, I know that God had a plan for it to be a good thing, because it is bringing awareness.”

The Fittons were not aware that any bullying was taking place, not until the law enforcement officer returned from the high school where the bullying came to light.

Fitton said Chloe had no signs. “We had not noticed anything and she had not said anything. When I say Chloe had no signs, she had no signs. She always hung out with me and her dad.”

“She loved her parents,” added Sterling. “I was so jealous when she’d leave us to go hang out with them.”

Chloe Fitton loved to fish, was witty and sarcastic, had lots of friends and a great laugh and enjoyed spending time with her parents. She was an Oak Grove High School senior. In the wee morning hours of Nov. 2, 2016, Chloe took her own life.

Chloe had been the victim of cyber bullying by a 14-year-old at OGHS. He was arrested, sent to alternative school and given 60 days probation, and presumably able to walk the halls of the Lamar County school once again. Something their daughter would never do.

Because he was a minor, Chloe’s parents, Julianna and Robert, couldn’t be in the courtroom to face their daughter’s abuser and weren’t allowed to hear or read what was said. The records were sealed. They will never know.

The one thing they do know? If they can keep one parent from feeling the way they did that November morning and have in the days and months since, they will have succeeded.

In an attempt to familiarize other parents, friends and teachers about the possible signs of suicide, Julianna and Chloe’s best friend’s mom, Shannon Sterling, have joined forces – hands and hearts to bring suicide to the forefront.

With the assistance of the Men’s Club at Oak Grove United Methodist Church, Fitton and Sterling are hosting a workshop – Suicide Prevention Education. The event is set for 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at Oak Grove UMC, 4915 Old Hwy. 11, in Oak Grove.

This free presentation is for parents and community members 18 years old and older.

The “More Than Sad” workshop, developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, teaches how to recognize depression and other mental health problems, how to initiate a conversation with children and how to get him or her help if needed.

Following Chloe’s death, the women, along with Sterling’s daughter and Chloe’s best friend, Raven, attended a similar type event on the Gulf Coast.

“We felt we needed to bring something like this to Hattiesburg,” Sterling said.

Fitton recently attended State Capitol Day in Jackson where she and other parents and friends served as advocates and voices for loved ones lost to suicide. In Mississippi, someone commits suicide every 20 hours.

“My main goal is to be Chloe’s voice,” said Fitton. “After I went back to work a lady came up to me and said, ‘I know what you’re going through.’ I just looked at her and then she told me her daughter, a student at Presbyterian Christian, had also committed suicide. She was also bullied.

“I’m a firm believer that the young lady from PCS and Chloe won’t be the last ones, not until we get a handle on this situation. We need more laws to keep up with the technology that’s going on today.”

She talked of Wisconsin, where ordinances and fines are starting to be assessed on parents whose children are found guilty of social media bullying.

Fitton and Sterling both believe that Mississippi and the country need more laws in place to protect children. “We’ve got to get stiffer laws,” said Fitton.

Suicide among children ages 10-24 is the second leading cause of death in Mississippi.

“It’s high,” said Sterling. “And we don’t hear about suicides. The only reason we heard about Chloe’s is because a minor was arrested. On one hand I feel for Robert and Julie. It has to be extremely hard to see the face of the child you’ve just lost plastered all over the TV, but then again, I know that God had a plan for it to be a good thing, because it is bringing awareness.”

The Fittons were not aware that any bullying was taking place, not until the law enforcement officer returned from the high school where the bullying came to light.

Fitton said Chloe had no signs. “We had not noticed anything and she had not said anything. When I say Chloe had no signs, she had no signs. She always hung out with me and her dad.”

“She loved her parents,” added Sterling. “I was so jealous when she’d leave us to go hang out with them.”

To promote the Feb. 22 event, Fitton has gone everywhere she thinks might be important handing out fliers. “I want people to come and see what they need to know,” she said.

“What Robert and I went through that day, and what we go through every day, I don’t want any other parent to have to go through this. It’s just so sad the ages of the children who are taking their lives are getting younger and younger.

“There’s no safe place anymore. When we were growing up if you were being bullied at school, when you came home through your front doors you were safe. You were safe those hours you were at the house. If somebody called, you didn’t have to pick it up. Phones were on the wall. and you were with your parents, had your friends come over, but you were safe.”

She said with today’s technology, you can’t escape.

“It’s in your face all the time,” Fitton said. “What breaks my heart the most in Chloe’s situation is how many different social media platforms, how many were being made, berating her. Chloe was feisty, sassy, a firecracker. She was strong, so how much was she taking those last few months before she finally couldn’t handle it anymore and it just became too much.”

“As much as she loved and trusted her parents and loved being around them, she was raised with two older brothers,” said Sterling. “She was strong and thought she was invincible.

Fitton said she always believed in God, but ever since Chloe has passed away, “I know He is with me all the time,” said Fitton, who was baptized a year ago this week.

“Our lives have changed now. Every morning you have to start your day off with a prayer just to get out of the house, but I cannot have another family go through this. I really can’t. If I have to go back to the state Capitol to see if anybody will talk to me, I’ll do it because my mission is tougher laws. I’m not saying throw the bad kids in jail. If you have physical proof of harassment on social media, we’ve got to fix that. With technology the way it is, if we don’t put laws in place, it’s going to continue. We’ve got to do something to deter the bullies.”

While the plan was for Chloe to attend the University of Southern Mississippi (her dad had signed over the GI Bill to her), an inside joke was, “I don’t think she’s going to USM. I think she’s going to do hair and makeup because that’s all she liked to do.”

Fitton hopes this education event is big and a lot of people come and get involved. She’s also hoping she still has the courage to get up and speak.

“I want more of this kind of education in Hattiesburg,” she said. “We want people to know that suicide is preventable. If we have a room full of people and we can save one life, that’s one life. That’s one more. We’ve got to do something here. We’ve got to make this happen.”

Sterling said the Men’s Club at OGUMC have embraced this and everything has just come together. “We know this is God’s plan. He’s got this and He’s bringing it all together.

“Saving lives is our goal. We want to save lives and give the glory to God.”

Free daycare will be provided for those needing it, but attendees are asked to call and register so plans can be made. For more information, call Fitton at 706.577.0325 or Sterling, 601.520.1787.

 

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