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By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff
Edward “Conway” Tobler still has the bullet from his suicide attempt, a reminder of the self-inflicted tragedy that he survived and learned from.
Six years later, Tobler is dedicated to the prevention of suicide and child abuse.
On April 4, through the non-profit organization Live for Life, Tobler and several local bands hosted the first-ever “Live for Life: Don’t Hasten Death” music festival at the Grover King VFW Post #1115 in Hillsville.
“This is a new thing, and I hope that it goes well. I’d like to see it happen again,” said Tobler, as he sat at a booth at the back of the VFW, laying out the bullet jewelry he’d made for the event.
Soon after the first band started playing, a group of kids approached the table to ask about them.
“This is the only bullet you’ll ever have your name on that won’t kill you,” Tobler told them.
Later, he explained that he’d done research to find the bullets that are typically used during suicide attempts. After removing the powder, he strung them into necklaces and key chains, turning a deadly object into a defiance of death.
The day after the concert, he planned to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the suicide attempt. “Every time I hold that bullet in my hand, I feel uneasy,” he said.
When asked why he kept it, he said that it was a reminder of what he walked away from.
Today, Tobler’s mission is to keep other from going through what he did.
The day-long music event doubled as a fundraiser, with profits from ticket and merchandise sales going towards Rooftop of Virginia for child abuse awareness and Crisislink (The National Suicide Hotline) for suicide prevention.
According to a number of medical studies, researchers have discovered a link between child abuse and suicide. Findings suggest that abused children are at a higher risk than others of attempting suicide, as a means of escaping their situation at home, or as a result of the negative self-directed feelings they develop as a result of the abuse.
Child abuse is not the only event that can trigger suicidal feelings. Individuals who suffer from debilitating mental or physical problems, victims of rape or domestic violence, bullying or other traumatic events can also find themselves at a higher risk.
The concert featured a variety of increasingly harder-edged bands, from Christian rock groups to Southern rock, hardcore and heavy metal music as the night went on. The lineup offered something for everyone, and people of all ages were welcome to attend. Bands included New Creation, All Came As One, Confusion, Andrew Marshall and the Silver City Band, Terrorizing Teddy, Draugir, Psychotropic Remedy and Cult of Dionysis.
In addition to the music, those in attendance had their pick of band merchandise, “Live for Life” T-shirts and jewelry, informational pamphlets, an oxygen bar and concessions.
Looking back over the early years of his life, Tobler believes that he was a poster child for suicide risk. He’d had a difficult childhood, and early on had developed an unhealthy obsession with dying.
He said his attempt in 2008 was one of 41 he’d made in his lifetime.
At approximately 6:05 a.m. on April 5, 2008, he put a .308 rifle to his chest and pulled the trigger.
He was only 24 years old, but he believed then that death was his only option.
“Most people, when they commit suicide, they look for the most painless way to end it. But I wanted to die slowly,” he said, which was why he chose to aim the barrel towards his heart.
He’d done his research, and knew that it would be the most painful way to go.
But the second that the bullet traveled through his body, he knew that he’d made a mistake. He fumbled for his phone, and made several calls before he finally reached his mother, who was working at her job as an emergency dispatcher at the time.
He bled out in 32-and-a-half minutes, before he suffered a heart attack from the blood loss and a stroke. Thankfully, help arrived just in time.
“It was like an orchestra,” he said, describing how the doctors and staff at the hospital had everything pulled together by the time he was rushed to the ER.
He died several times on the operating table as they attempted to put him back together, but doctors were able to keep him alive long enough to stabilize him.
Afterwards, he spent the better part of a year with the difficult task of healing — both emotionally and physically.
With close to a million dollars in medical bills, and the humbling state of his condition, he admitted that it was tempting to sink back into a depressive state. But it wasn’t long after that when his life finally turned around.
A Second Chance
“When I stood on my own two feet again… that’s when I knew how much I wanted to live,” he said.
Today, he keeps the memories of that night fresh in his mind, and thanks God each day for allowing him to live through the attempt. Every year on April 5, he makes a point to be outside, watching the sun rise at 6:05 a.m — a sight that he once believed he’d never see again.
He thinks about his family, his friends, his faith in God and is happy in the knowledge that he survived that night for a reason.
Moving forward, Tobler’s goal is to support the causes he believes in, and provide a perspective from someone who has been there.
But he wasn’t the only one with a connection to the causes they were funding. Throughout the evening, the bands dedicated their sets to loved ones, both living and dead. “The bands who are performing, the minute they heard what this was for, they were on board,” he said.
Tobler explained that success that night wouldn’t necessarily come from drawing a huge crowd, but instead he hoped that anyone who needed to hear the message would walk through the door that evening.
“If I can save even one life, it will all be worthwhile.”
He extended thanks to the many businesses and churches in the area that helped promote the concert, the bands for their participation and promotion of the event, his friends and family, The Carroll News, The Gazette and the Facebook community.
“This is something that I never could have done without everyone’s help,” he said.
Suicide: warning signs and how to help someone who is suicidal
Suicide warning signs:
• Appearing depressed or sad most of the time (Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide)
• Talking about or writing about death or suicide.
• Withdrawing from family or friends
• Feeling hopeless or helpless
• Feeling strong anger or rage
• Feeling trapped, like there is no way out
of a situation
• Experiencing dramatic mood changes,
or exhibiting a change in personality.
• Abusing drugs or alcohol
• Acting impulsively
• Losing interest in most activities
• Performing poorly at work or at school
• Giving away prized possessions
• Writing a will
• Feeling excessive guilt or shame
• Acting recklessly
How to help someone who is at risk for suicide:
• Always take suicidal comments seriously. Assuming that a person is only seeking attention is a very serious, and potentially disastrous, error. Get help immediately, and don’t make assumptions.
• Remain calm. Acting shocked could distress the person more than they already are. Speak to them calmly, and seek help for them immediately.
• Do not handle the situation alone. Someone who is suicidal needs immediate professional help. Call 911, 1-800-SUICIDE, or 1-800-273-TALK.
While you are waiting for help to arrive, or if there is no emergency:
• Let them as much as they want to, and listen attentively. Be supportive, and learn as much as possible about what is causing the suicidal feelings.
• Offer words of encouragement.
• Let them know that you are concerned about their well-being.
• If there is a high risk, do not leave them alone under any circumstances until you have gotten professional help.
• Talk openly about suicide. Find out if the person is depressed to the point of suicide, if they have a method in mind, if they have what they need, and if they’ve planned when they will do it. The more planning that someone has put into a suicide, the greater the risk.
• If the person owns a firearm and plans to use it, call the police, and have them remove the firearm. Guns are used in the majority of suicides, and those who use a firearm typically don’t survive the attempt.
• Don’t pass judgment, or invalidate the person’s feelings. Always be supportive and caring.
• Allow them to cry, yell, swear or whatever is necessary to release the emotions they are feeling, as long as the expressions do not become violent.
• Refuse to keep the discussion confidential. Seek help for that person immediately. This isn’t a violation of a confidential agreement. It could save a life.
• Help them make an appointment with a medical doctor and a therapist. Only trained professions should assume the care for someone who is suicidal. Do not try to help them yourself.
• When in doubt, call 911. It is better to be unsure and err on the side of caution.
• Follow up with the person on a regular basis to make sure that they are doing okay. Suicidal feelings can come and go, so it is important to show continued support.
This information was provided by Kevin Caruso, the founder, executive director, editor in chief, senior writer, and forum administrator for Suicide.org. According to Caruso, 75 percent of those who die by suicide exhibit some warning signs before they act, while others will not show any signs before making an attempt. If you or someone you know is in danger because of thoughts of suicide, call 911, 1-800-SUICIDE, or 1-800-273-TALK.
Child Abuse Warning Signs
Warning signs of emotional abuse:
• Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
• Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
• Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
• Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).
Warning signs of physical abuse:
• Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
• Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
• Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
• Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
• Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.
Warning signs of neglect:
• Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.
• Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).
• Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
• Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.
• Is frequently late or missing from school.
Warning signs of sexual abuse:
• Trouble walking or sitting.
• Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior.
• Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
• Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities.
• An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14.
• Runs away from home.
This information was obtained from HelpGuide.org, a non-profit resource for medical issues. It should be noted that child abuse is often difficult to spot, and the presence of one or two warning signs does not automatically mean a child is being abused. It is important to look for a pattern or abusive behavior when trying to determine if a child is at risk.