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Seminole woman’s son wanted to travel, so 1,000 people spread his ashes

Their story is told through the documentary “Scattering CJ” on PBS Worldwide.
Hallie, CJ and John Twomey. After CJ Twomey killed himself, more than 1,000 strangers volunteered to help spread his ashes around the world. That story is told through the documentary "Scattering CJ."
Hallie, CJ and John Twomey. After CJ Twomey killed himself, more than 1,000 strangers volunteered to help spread his ashes around the world. That story is told through the documentary "Scattering CJ." [ Courtesy of the Twomey family ]
Published Sep. 13|Updated Sep. 13

Editor’s note: This story includes discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, resources are available to help. Please see the information at the end of this story.

SEMINOLE — Much of April 14, 2010, remains a blur for Hallie Twomey.

But she cannot forget her reaction to her son Christopher John Twomey’s admission that he felt like a failure.

“I didn’t say I love you. I didn’t hug him. I didn’t say a thing,” she said. “I just rolled my eyes. I thought he was just being a dramatic 20-year-old.”

Soon after, her son died by suicide outside their home in Auburn, Maine.

Today, Hallie Twomey, a Seminole resident of five years, still talks to the urn holding her son’s ashes.

She apologizes for not saying more that day and reminds her son, better known as CJ, that she loves him.

More than 1,000 others have also shared that message while spreading his ashes around the world as part of Hallie Twomey’s mission to help her son posthumously fulfill his travel goals.

Their story is featured in the documentary “Scattering CJ” by Emmy-winning filmmaker Andrea Kalin.

It will be broadcast on the PBS World Channel on Friday, Saturday and Wednesday. .

“I can’t bring him back, but I can honor him and his legacy and impact others through this film,” Hallie Twomey said.

"Scattering CJ" filmmaker Andrea Kalin (left) and Hallie Twomey
"Scattering CJ" filmmaker Andrea Kalin (left) and Hallie Twomey [ Courtesy of Spark Media ]

The documentary features the Twomeys’ story and selfie videos from some of the more than 1,000 people — mostly strangers — who agreed to help spread CJ’s ashes.

His ashes have been scattered in more than 100 countries and 750 locations, including Mount Kilimanjaro, the Great Wall of China, Honduras, the south coast of Fiji, underwater at the Great Barrier Reef and outer space via a private rocket.

Hallie Twomey sends the ashes in small bags to the volunteer participants, along with two requests: that they send her a photo or video so that she can experience the travel with her son and that, as they spread the ashes, they remind him of her love and regret.

Everyone has honored the requests. Some share personal stories of losing a loved one to suicide or admit to once contemplating it.

Others say that learning of Hallie Twomey’s pain convinced them to keep living.

“To assert that you will never be affected by mental illness, directly or indirectly, throughout your lifetime is like saying you will never catch a cold or cut your finger,” said David Lobatto, the film’s producer, in a prepared statement. “It is through the incredible endeavors of people like Hallie Twomey and the prowess of activists like Andrea Kalin that shame can be driven out of the subject, and the tools to get help for people in need can be most widely and effectively deployed.”

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After high school, CJ Twomey joined the U.S. Air Force and later “competed for a position with special forces,” Hallie Twomey said. “He was not chosen. He was certainly disappointed.”

He was honorably discharged, returned to Maine and worked for a private security company.

“There were no flags,” Hallie Twomey said. “He was starting to think about getting back into the military. Things seemed like they were moving in a positive direction.”

Related: To honor son, Clearwater woman wants to memorialize a Black pioneer

Then came April 14, 2010.

CJ Twomey called his mom at work to say his plan to rejoin the military had changed. Hallie Twomey and her husband, John Twomey, returned home to check on their son.

“We ended up in the kitchen and were calmly talking,” Hallie Twomey said. “But it quickly escalated. He wasn’t crying, but he kept saying he had nothing. He was so upset that he smashed his fist on our kitchen counter. He hit it so hard that it popped up.”

He ran outside and killed himself.

“The next year was a nightmare,” Hallie Twomey said. “I remember dusting my son’s urn and realizing that’s part of my reality now. I dust my son’s urn. That couldn’t be an end to it. He loved life. He loved adventure. It didn’t seem like this could be it. If CJ had lived the life he was meant to live, he would have traveled.”

John, CJ, Connor and Hallie Twomey
John, CJ, Connor and Hallie Twomey [ Courtesy of the Twomey family ]

Three years after her son’s death, Hallie Twomey came up with the idea to ask friends and family to help spread his ashes when they travel. She posted the request on Facebook. It went viral.

“Our local newspaper did a story and then CNN picked it up,” she said. “It just went from five to 10 to 100 offers overnight.”

“We were getting thousands of emails,” Hallie Twomey said. “It was overwhelming to keep up with all these amazing people and offers to help.”

One such email came from Kalin’s Washington, D.C.-based Spark Media production company.

“She promised that if we trusted her, she would tell the story of our son and the journey in a respectful way that people will want to watch and that will have a positive impact,” Hallie Twomey said. “I trusted her, and she was right.”

People still reach out to help spread CJ Twomey’s ashes, but she’s careful not to send away too much.

“I will always want to keep some,” Hallie Twomey said. “CJ is gone. But I have an urn and I have my memories.”

If you want to watch

“Scattering CJ” is airing on PBS World Channel.

Screening dates: Sept. 16 at 7 p.m., Sept. 17 at 12 a.m., 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., and Sept. 21 at 5 a.m. and 11 a.m.

For more information on the movie and on volunteering to spread CJ’s ashes, visit scatteringcjfilm.com.

Need help?

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, reach out to the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255; contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or chat with someone online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay can be reached by dialing 211 or by visiting crisiscenter.com.

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