'It's so hard to go through': Frazee student's suicide stuns family
Izabella “Asher” Garcia died in late April, at age 14. Her family hopes her story will encourage other kids and teens to speak out about their own mental health struggles and prevent other families from having to endure the kind of pain they're going through.
EDITORS NOTE: If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing suicidal thoughts or mental health concerns, please call: 218-850-HELP(4357). Additional resources for mental health services in the lakes area can be found here .
FRAZEE – At 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 21, one heart stopped, and many others broke.
Izabella “Asher” Garcia ended her life at age 14.
Increasing responsibilities and expectations are heavy weights for any teen to lift, but the Frazee High School eighth grade student was also reportedly dealing with the added weights of past abuse and a transgender identity that made her a target of bullying.
Garcia, the daughter of Tracy Dutton and Angel Garcia, suffered sexual and physical abuse as a child, her parents said, and those repressed memories had been digging their way to the surface.
“At first, she thought it (the abuse) was from a bad dream,” Dutton recalled, adding that when her daughter came forward about what had happened, the reality hit the girl hard: “She really started to decline; withdraw.”
When Dutton learned that the abuse came at the hands of someone close to her daughter, she sought therapy for her. Garcia was scheduled to work with a child psychologist at Sanford in Detroit Lakes.
While trying to grapple with dark memories that returned in the form of daytime terrors, Garcia was also dealing with a growing feeling in her heart that her self-image was more akin to a boy. She chose what her name would be as a male — Asher — and asked those close to her to use it.
Coming to terms with being transgender caused a cascade of unkind commentary from peers — at least that is what Dutton has heard from other parents in recent weeks.
Garcia's aunt, Susan Hobbs, noted that her niece was beautifully unique. She was also a typical pre-teen in some ways, Hobbs said, and had a competitive streak and a 'lead foot' when driving a go-cart.
“She was also a person who, when she cared, she cared deeply,” she added. “She always looked out for the people she loved.”
Outwardly, Garcia appeared to be handling her trials, her mom said; but she must have been internalizing her pain.
“She was a happy girl who cared about others,” said Dutton, adding with a quiver in her voice that, “I guess she didn’t want to worry others with her troubles.”
Garcia's family is left with a wound that will never fully heal, and with questions that will never be answered.
“It’s so hard. It’s so hard to go through," Dutton said.
She added that the family is appreciative of the “love and support” they have received from the community.
“It has helped us a lot,” she said. “We need prayers and the chance to experience healing; everyone is hurting.”
The family set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for funeral expenses, and at press time Monday they were nearing their goal, with 90 donors so far. Visit Garcia’s fundraiser by clicking here .
Hobbs reminds all parents to check in with their children, and asks kids to find the courage and confidence to express themselves.
“Find someone to talk to,” she said. “If people don’t seem like they care, try again. Your life is more important than anything. Find help somewhere, someone will listen.”
Frazee-Vergas Schools Superintendent Terry Karger said the district's counseling staff and additional support services are available for all students.
“Teaching and support staff are also provided with resources on how to talk to grieving students and are encouraged to monitor all students closely,” Karger said. “I extend my deepest sympathy to Izabella’s family, friends and community. We are doing our best to make sure that students are aware of support services available to them to help process their grief.”
Karger said addressing all forms of bullying in the school district is a continuous work in progress.
“We regularly work with students to understand the importance of these policies and what to do if they feel they are being mistreated by another student,” Karger said. “When we receive complaints, we promptly investigate them and respond appropriately.”
'Communication is always key'
Taressa Strand, clinical nurse manager at Sanford of Detroit Lakes, said the local Sanford has two child psychologists on staff. Child psychologists have specialized training to help children feel safe in sharing and addressing their trauma and struggles.
The first step, she said, is often for a child, teen or young adult to feel confident in leaning on someone for help — whether that be a peer, parent, school counselor or other trusted person.
“Communication is always key,” she said, adding that a child’s primary care provider can recommend therapy with a psychologist.
“We also have psychiatry here,” she added, noting that the differences between the two involve the depth of a patient's mental health history as well as whether their treatment is likely to require medication. "Psychologists are more long-term treatment."
Strand said there's been an uptick in cases of teen depression due to the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and time lost in activities and athletics.
“I also think a lot of it has to do with social media,” she said. “We see complaints about bullying and how social media changes attitudes, at times with negativity.”
DL senior shines light on student mental health
Recent research completed by Detroit Lakes High School senior Emma Wahl shows many local teens have experienced suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety and other mental health illnesses over the past year.
Wahl, the daughter of Ronico and Shiloh Wahl, emailed an anonymous survey to 870 of her peers in grades 9-12 as part of her senior Capstone Project on student mental health.
“What I found, I didn’t expect,” she said.
Wahl pulled the statistics from her report up onto her laptop. Of the 140 students that responded, she said, "87.9% experienced depression and anxiety; almost 50% had suicidal thoughts; 68.6% had severe mood swings; 80% experienced loneliness; and 16.4% said they abused drugs or alcohol in the last year.”
Wahl said the high rate of students who admitted to suicidal thoughts was the most “eye opening” statistic for her.
She chose to focus her project on student mental health after experiencing anxiety and other mental health issues herself.
“Everyone is fighting their own battles,” she said. “No one should struggle alone. Be kind. You never know what kind of a day a person has had or what they are dealing with.”