Suicide is Second Leading Cause of Death for North Dakota Youth

In North Dakota, suicide is the ninth leading cause of death overall, but it’s the second leading cause for youth between 15 and 24.

KX News brings you the story of one woman fighting to change these odds, after it hit her family much too close to home.

Shannon Avard describes her son Darren Wallace as a regular kid. He loved the outdoors and playing sports. He was a football player for Mandan High School.

Avard has a full home:

She explains, “I have nine total with him, and he’s the second oldest.”

On May 17th, 2018, her world changed forever. Officers woke her and her husband up in the middle of the night to tell her, Darren killed himself.

The heartbroken mother shares, “They wouldn’t tell me the details right away. All they kept saying is ‘We don’t know, we were just sent here to tell you the news.'”

Darren was 17 years old. Avard didn’t want to make this story about how it happened that night, but how it could’ve been avoided, and Darren’s life saved.

Avard adds, “Darren had a lot of the signs. I didn’t know them then, and neither did probably anyone else in his life.”

Thea Jorgensen presents research done by the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

Together, Shannon, herself and one other, founded a non-profit, called the DJW Life project. 

Jorgensen explains, “We are just starting, but our mission is to not only do suicide prevention and awareness in the community, but to focus on some of the protective factors.”

The DJW Life Project Secretary says North Dakota checks all the boxes for high-risk suicide factors, but it’s an issue that still is not talked about.

She emphasizes, “We need to have the conversations. We need to not be scared to ask someone flat-out if they’re considering suicide. The scariest part of it is what if that person says ‘yes’.”

Jorgenson and Avard say DJW’s purpose is to connect people who are going through these dark times with those who can teach coping skills. That way, what happened to Darren never becomes an option in the first place.

Avard shares, “I think it could have been changed, I do. Just because I know him, I know his life, so I think it could have been changed.”

If you’d like to help the DJW Life Project’s cause, send them an email at, or visit their website:

They also travel to classrooms and give school presentations to share more on suicide prevention.

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