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Originally published Sunday, June 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Overnight walk aims to prevent suicide

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention organized the first Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk in Seattle. More than $1 million was expected to be raised for research and programs to support people who've lost loved ones to suicide.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Jesse Kaesberg did what he could to stave off the extreme highs and lows of bipolar disorder. He took his medication and stayed busy with a full-time job parking cars.

But a week before Christmas, Jesse told his parents he was feeling down. He spent Christmas with them at their Lynnwood home, and two days later, he jumped from the Aurora Bridge.

Saturday night his parents, Frances and John Kaesberg, planned to pay tribute to Jesse near the spot where he killed himself, at age 26.

The Kaesbergs were among 1,000 people expected to walk 20 miles overnight in Seattle for suicide prevention. The walk would take them under the Aurora Bridge to Fremont's troll sculpture, where Jesse parked his car the day he died.

"From the note he left, he was just really having trouble shaking the down feeling and trying to stay positive. I think he made up his mind that he couldn't handle the highs and lows," Frances Kaesberg said. "It's a terrible thing that so few of us know the kind of pain people like that go through."

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention organized the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk. It was the foundation's first walk in Seattle, and more than $1 million was expected to be raised for research, education and programs to support people who've lost loved ones to suicide, said executive director Robert Gebbia.

The New York-based foundation, which plans to open a Seattle chapter by this fall, has held similar walks in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and San Francisco.

"The symbolism is very powerful — we want to bring the issue of suicide out of the darkness," Gebbia said. "This is an issue that has not been given enough attention, even though it's a national health problem."

More than 32,000 people kill themselves each year in the U.S., making it the nation's 11th most common cause of death, according to the foundation.

Someone dies by suicide every 16 minutes in the U.S., and an attempt is thought to be made every minute, the foundation says.

In Washington state, more than 820 people take their own lives each year, and among all people between 15 and 34 years old, suicide is the second-leading cause of death.

Nationwide, at least 60 percent of people who kill themselves suffer from major depression.

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Betsy Vela, 28, of West Seattle, planned to participate in the overnight walk with Kathleen Wicker, who's visiting from Pennsylvania. Vela's dad, a small-business owner living with Wicker in a Philadelphia suburb, killed himself in 2002 at age 48. Business had been slow in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but mostly, he struggled with depression, Vela said.

"It was a lifelong battle, and he lost," she said. "We're losing a lot of amazing people in this world, and we shouldn't be standing for it."

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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