SEATTLE — June 18th, the Vashon Island High School Class of 2016 will graduate. They will keep one seat empty for Palmer Burk. He should have been with them, but his life ended in suicide. This is his mother's fight for his legacy.
"Pretty early on, he showed himself to be just super adventurous, very creative."
From the beginning on Vashon Island, Kathleen Gilligan's son Palmer seemed like he could master anything-- from baseball to football to firearms.
"He was a trained marksman. We shot clay pigeons." Palmer learned respect for the power of guns.
He used his skill on a deer. But only once. "He never shot another one because he was so tender hearted."
He didn't have the heart to kill again. Until October 4, 2012, at the age of 14, when he turned a gun on himself.
"My son shot himself."
79% OF GUN-RELATED DEATHS IN WASHINGTON ARE SUICIDE.
"That's the issue is having easy access to something that is so highly lethal."
Jennifer Stuber is in the U-Dub School of Social Work and she's Faculty Director for Forefront -- which promotes awareness and innovation in suicide prevention. She's helping Kathleen turn her son's loss into a legacy.
"She has so much courage that she's willing to talk about the fact that there was an insecure firearm in her home."
OVER 85% OF FIREARMS USED IN YOUTH SUICIDES ARE OWNED BY FAMILY MEMBERS.
Forefront has helped Kathleen face the fact that Palmer's suicide could have been prevented. With agonizing hindsight she recognizes there were signs of her son's depression.
His heart had been broken--
"I knew he was upset, I just didn't know he was that upset."
He wrote to his friends that he had "a thunderstorm of pain in his brain." But they didn't know to tell Kathleen.
Kathleen didn't realize his gun would be his end. "And that will haunt me for the rest of his life because as his mom, it was my responsibility to protect him, and i did not in that case.
Now she's turning her pain into a weapon. These clips come from a new documentary Stuber filmed last year--To raise awareness in communities with high rates of gun ownership--to recognize and talk about signs of depression and mental illness -- and to keep guns away from those who are suffering.
"It's such a deeply tragic story and it was preventable."
In return, she's learned from Stuber the healing power of sharing her grief.
"I'm also a suicide survivor. My husband used a gun to end his life with the that he purchased."
Her husband, Matt Adler, successful attorney and father of their two kids, died by suicide a year and a half before Palmer.
"Actually at his grave, I talked to palmer, and I asked Matt to watch out for him."
Jennifer and Kathleen will watch out for each other
"She's my partner in grief."
Few others can understand. They want to keep it that way.
"I don't ever want to see another parent have feel like I do."
Cox Media Group