‘The face of mental illness often wears a smile’: Mount Horeb PD confirms two suicides in July

19-year-old's parents share his story
‘The face of mental illness often wears a smile’: Mount Horeb PD confirms two suicides in July

At least two people in Mount Horeb died by suicide in July, according to the Mount Horeb Police Department.

Chief Jeff Veloff confirmed that a 19-year-old and 21-year-old both died by a suicide in July within 10 days of each other. The Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office is investigating a third death, a 10-year-old boy, as a possible suicide.

Veloff said there was no common link between the three families, calling it “independently random.”

“It’s kind of a societal problem versus a one town problem,” Veloff said. “As a county, we’re dealing with it multiple times a day.”

Another high school student from Mount Horeb also died by suicide in the fall of 2017.

Joseph’s story

Joseph Larson was just 19 when he died on July 6. His family said he loved to play video games, watch YouTube videos, take walks around the village and hang out with friends.

“The thing that people do remember most about Joseph was just his big vibrant smile and how quick he was to share it with everybody,” said his mom, Heidi Larson.

He worked at Culver’s in Mount Horeb. The restaurant is having a share night on Saturday, and 25 percent of the sales will be donated to the Larson family.

“It’s a little sad — hearing from people we’ve never even met who knew Joseph from his work or because he took walks downtown and was just a friendly face to so many people — for him to not realize the impact that he had on other people’s lives, the many ways that he will be missed,” Heidi Larson said.

Joseph Larson graduated from Mount Horeb High School in 2017. He was the first person in the Mount Horeb community to be involved in a program for 18-21 year olds within the school district.

Joseph Larson’s family members are sharing his story in hopes that no other family has to go through what they are going through.

“The face of mental illness often wears a smile,” Heidi Larson said.

Her advice for other parents?

“If you have concerns about your child or you’re just not sure, keep pressing them for answers. Keep trying to get them the help they need and make sure they’re really OK and that they’re not just wearing a mask,” she said.

Conversation about mental health

Jared Parmley, the pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, serves on the Mount Horeb Mental Health & Wellness Coalition with school board members, community members, therapists counselors, parents and teachers.

Parmley said he has heard increased concerns from parents and said conversation about mental health now has to happen in elementary school children. He said the coalition is particularly concerned about the increased use of social media in children.

“You may have a lot of friends on social media, but that doesn’t mean you have a lot of friends to talk to,” Parmley said.

The coalition and school district are holding an open forum for families and citizens on Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Mount Horeb Public Library.

The community is also holding a community walk at the Mount Horeb Fire Station parking lot at 8 p.m. at Sunday.

Anyone who is struggling is welcome to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours every day at 1-800-273-8255. You can also find local and national resources here.