Eight years ago at a morning meeting with her colleagues, Shelly Williams, a therapy program manager, asked the usual question: "Anybody homicidal in your caseload? Anybody suicidal?" Her colleagues said no.

Hours later, a family member called to tell Williams that her nephew, Wally Matthew Patrick, 22, had died by suicide.

"He had struggled with depression for a long time," said Williams, one of 5,000 people who have lost a loved one and were participating in Sunday's 12th annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk along Martin Luther King Drive to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Catherine Siciliano, AFSP's area director for Philadelphia and Delaware, lost her son Anthony, 26, to suicide in 2008.

Since she joined the organization the following year, she has seen AFSP grow from her first Out of the Darkness walk in 2009 - where 649 walkers raised $75,000 - to Sunday's 5,000 walkers raising more than $500,000. The money goes for suicide prevention education, including training teachers to recognize early warning signs in students, and for survivor support and bereavement programs.

"There are billboards and huge walks for cancer and diabetes, and their programs let people know about getting things like breast exams and colonoscopies," Siciliano said. "I realized people weren't talking about suicide. The conviction I've had from the day I lost my son is that I had to do something to change this. I wasn't going to sit back in silence. We need to let people know that suicide is diagnosable, preventable, treatable."

Returning from the walk, family teams wearing shirts honoring their loved ones' lives gathered on the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps and shared their memories.

Vincent Picariello Jr. and his wife, Denise, of Northeast Philadelphia brought an 84-member team of family, friends, and coworkers to honor their son, Vincent Picariello III, 25, who died by suicide on Sept. 9.

Both Vincent and Denise Picariello said they have used social media to openly discuss their son's paranoid schizophrenia and how it impaired his ability to make good decisions about taking his medications.

"If mental illness and suicide are not talked about," Vincent Picariello said, "the situation's not going to get better.

Linda Gerth of Hainesport, whose son Timmy Ninerell, 27, died by suicide in May, led a team of 66 people wearing black "Timmy's Band" T-shirts with a line from a Bad Company song about a rock star who died too young: "If you listen to the wind, you can still hear him play."

Gerth said the lyric was deeply meaningful to her because her son, a rock guitarist, had a death metal band called Deform and dreamed of stardom. The walk, she said, "has really been very good for me. Everyone here has been touched in the same way. We're very supportive of each other. It's beautiful."

A group of 75 police officers, who raised nearly $6,000 as Team Cops for Life, were the first Philadelphia Police Department team to participate in the walk.

Pastor Sally Super, whose Touch of the Master's Hand Healing and Deliverance Ministry is not a church but what she calls a "healing room" in Bristol, Bucks County, stood quietly near the Rocky statue beside a handmade sign that read, "Free Hugs."

But what she offered most to Out of the Darkness walkers was prayer.

Super handed out small vials of mustard seed ("if you have faith, even as small as a mustard seed . . ." Matthew 17:20) and plastic prescription bottles containing a blue sheet of healing biblical scripture.

Lisa Furhmeister of Northeast Philadelphia prayed with Super, as she has been doing since her daughter, Carey Rose Furhmeister, 15, died by suicide last year.

"My daughter had a beautiful voice," Furhmeister said. "She sang with Jamison Celtic Rock and danced with Celtic Flame. But she was bullied in school. And my mother had just died. It could have been any of 30 reasons."

Furhmeister said that like Super's healing room, Sunday's walk was comforting. "We're basically all walking around brokenhearted," she said, "but this is a place you can be real. You can just be free and share."

Shelly Williams agreed, saying that in the days following her nephew's suicide, "getting involved with AFSP, plus my faith in God, helped me deal with the hurt and grief."

The support helped so much that she and her mother-in-law, Cecile Williams, became the first African Americans on the AFSP board.

"In the African American community, we don't talk about suicide," Williams said. "But I was depressed myself at 24, so I know what it's like to have that weight where you just can't see living any further. People do hear voices that tell them, 'Just die. Life will be better without you.' "

Williams said her pastor helped her get through her depression, and, as AFSP's education coordinator, she wants to help others get through the loss of a loved one who died by suicide.

"Because my nephew died from it, I want to be the voice of Matthew," Williams said. "We came to our first walk as a family in 2009 because we needed to heal. This is a place where people are not ashamed to say, 'I'm struggling.' This is a place for healing."

@DanGeringer

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