When Chris Mahan heard about the suicide of a 16-year-old girl in December, he knew the community needed to do something. Jessica Laney, a Hudson teen who was a victim of cyber bullying, was the sixth teenager in Pasco to commit suicide in 2012, a statistic that has been slowly rising in recent years.
"We have to draw a line in the sand and say, 'It stops now,' " said Mahan, public relations director for Redeemer Community Church in New Port Richey.
That quest to offer help and hope to the county's youth begins tonight with a suicide and cyber bullying forum called Stop the Pain at 7 p.m. at the church, 9230 Ridge Road in New Port Richey. Officials such as state Sen. John Legg, state Reps. Mike Fasano and Richard Corcoran and Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco will be panelists, as well as mental health and education representatives. The keynote speaker will be Sarah Ball, a Hernando High School senior who created an antibullying organization called Unbreakable after being a target of cyber-bullying.
Mahan said this forum will be the first of many events — which are open to everyone — planned to encourage dialogue with teenagers and to solve the problem.
"There is no reason at all that a child — boy or girl, gay or straight — there is no reason why someone should have to go through this by themselves," he said.
Mahan said the forum will probably last until 9 p.m., and there will be a reception with free food and beverages afterward.
The Pasco County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention is also hosting a meeting to discuss ways to help stop the suicide trend. The meeting is from 10 a.m. till noon Tuesday at the Land O'Lakes Community Center, 5401 Land O'Lakes Blvd.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.