They were seemingly happy teenage boys who had friends, played sports and made the honor roll.

The mothers of Jordan Benkert and Ryan Thompson had no idea their sons were experiencing an inner turmoil that would ultimately lead them to take their own lives.

"He's not a child who showed any signs of this," Shelly Thompson, Ryan's mom, said Thursday as part of a survivors' panel hosted by the York County Suicide Prevention Coalition. "Even on that very day."

That day - Dec. 30, 2012 - was as normal as any other, Shelly Thompson said.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Ryan even answered his phone later in the day when his mom called to check in.

But Shelly Thompson came home that night to find Ryan had committed suicide.

Lisa Benkert said she never suspected 17-year-old Jordan wanted to die.

But, two years ago, Lisa Benkert tragically watched her son put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.

Another member of the panel was Kelly Niles-Yokum, a York College professor who teaches a class on death and dying, and whose son has attempted suicide three times.

"To weave in this real-life experience has been a journey," Niles-Yokum said.

These are the stories no one wants to hear, of course. But, panelists said over and over again Thursday, society needs to confront its suicide problem. We need to talk about it, they said.

That problem is particularly pronounced in York County, where 45 people have committed suicide so far this year.


Cindy Richard, chairwoman and founder of the coalition, said the group remains committed to suicide-prevention programs despite an ongoing struggle to fund its initiatives. This week, they held a sixth annual conference on the topic.

On the group's wish list is a permanent, physical location where people can go for help and resources, Richard said.

"We're seeing that people still don't understand it or talk about it," she said. "I think that has a lot to do with our high numbers."

Lisa Benkert and Shelly Thompson said they've found strength through exercise, journaling and telling their stories at fundraisers and awareness campaigns. Questions can be tough to answer, but they like to hear people use their son's names.

Thompson said she once participated in a walk wearing a T-shirt that read "Ask me about my son." Benkert carries and distributes cards advertising a suicide-prevention hotline.

The mothers also urged parents and school officials to acknowledge the impact of a child's suicide on their peers.

"These kids really struggle when they lose somebody to suicide," Benkert said.

- Erin James may also be reached at