SEATTLE — 14-year old Palmer Burk was an excellent marksman. He and his mom, Kathleen Gilligan, shot clay pigeons together.
He hunted a deer once, but only once. His mom says he didn't have the heart to kill again. Until he turned a gun on himself.
"And that will haunt me the rest of my life," Katheen says. "Because as his mom, it was my responsibility to protect him, and I did not in that case." She didn't realize he needed protecting.
Kathleen called him "Chuck Norris of the Playground." Palmer was big, strong, and fearless. He developed an early sense of justice and helped kids with problems expressing themselves or fitting in. He was popular. He was loved. He was also in pain.
Part of Kathleen's anguish comes from hindsight. Palmer's heart had been broken. She found out later he told friends the swirling sadness felt like a "thunderstorm in his brain."
He knew how to avoid gun accidents. But his suicide was no accident. With the torture of hindsight, Kathleen now recognizes signs of his depression. It does nothing to change the outcome. "I do believe that suicide is largely preventable ... I have to find a way to live with this."
So she keeps climbing on the hamster wheel of regret, hoping it will power change.
She joined forces with Forefront, a public policy group devoted to suicide prevention. Her testimony helped push through support for a new bill that creates a Safe Homes Task Force. It will develop suicide prevention messages and training for firearms dealers and owners, pharmacy schools, and firearm safety educators. It's a political miracle: it got bipartisan support.
They all can agree Palmer shouldn't have died. He could have been saved. But he wasn't. Now Kathleen relives her pain publicly. It will never bring him back. But it keeps some of him here.
"Palmer is always here with me. I feel he's on my shoulder, you know, kind of whispering in my ear. It was extremely emotional for me. But I know his story has saved lives, and I will continue to tell it."
After the Aurora Bridge crash, people here jumped into action, donating hotel rooms, blood, and prayers-- flipping on its head Seattleites' reputation for being chilly (the "Seattle Freeze"). It inspired me to tell stories about people serving others, or what I call #SeattleAntifreeze. If you know a story that should be told, let me know.
To read more stories, click on #SeattleAntifreeze.
Cox Media Group