Nickerson mother hopes story of son’s struggles will save lives

Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 9:56 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Self-harm, struggles with sexuality and suicide are all topics that can be difficult to discuss with your child. But one mother in Nickerson is having that discussion publicly in hopes the story of her child’s struggles can lead to a happy ending for others.

There is plenty of good news that comes out of Nickerson, Kansas. Former students winning awards...current students lighting up the basketball court. The good news in the small-town travels faster by word of mouth than it does by TV or Internet. Unfortunately, this is not one of those stories. This is the story of a Nickerson student, who was a son, a brother, and who left behind a family determined he not be forgotten.

“My name is Jacqueline, and I am the mother of the local 14-year-old freshman who took his life,” Jacqueline Crites says in the video she posted on her Facebook page.

She goes by Jackie and says she and many in her family have a long history of issues with mental illness. So, when her son Barrett began showing signs, she was concerned but not surprised.

“I kind of argued with myself over whether I was more hoping than anything that he wouldn’t have to deal with the same stuff that myself and the rest of my family deals with,” Jackie said. “But once it became apparent by self-harm that he was dealing with it. We immediately got him into therapy and kept him there.”

Therapy helped, but it was by no means a magic cure. Even with the support, he was also getting at home, Barrett continued cutting, even burning himself. Jackie said he tried to hide it but couldn’t because it was something she knew far more about than he realized.

“He didn’t know that I had been cutting since I was 11 years old,” she said. “He had no idea, so when I started talking to him about that he started getting more open about it.”

Barrett continued opening up to her, eventually revealing to his mom that he was bisexual, had an interest in wearing makeup, and telling friends he was uncomfortable in his body. The boy with the “beautiful blonde hair,” as his mom describes him, who’d always worn Wranglers and button-up shirts...appeared happier than he’d been. Now with black hair and a whole new style, Barrett went back to school after Christmas break in early 2020 more comfortable with who he was. But that came to a tragic end. Just over a week later, he used a shotgun to end his life.

“After he had passed away, I heard that there were children who he would walk by and they would say ‘that’s nice eyeliner. Where’d you get that from? You get that from your mom?’ or ‘You look like a freak,’” Jackie said.

Jackie said she believes Barrett worried how his friends looked at him after hearing all the insults and bullying…and she believes it became too much for him to handle.

“At the end, he really felt like he was alone, and I had tried to talk to him for days and I knew something was wrong, I knew something was off,” she said.

Barrett was gone. Just 14 years old, he was lost before he could become whoever he would become…and while Jackie says she couldn’t change that, she thought maybe she could stop it from happening again.

“His name was Barrett, and it’s very important for me that people know his name. He came from a long line of people with mental health problems and survived severe trauma. And he was encompassed much more than just his actions that day. And this is just part of his story,” Jackie is heard saying in the video she made and posted on her Facebook page.

“It’s infuriating, to be completely honest. I also didn’t find out until he passed away that he’d been bullied,” she continued. In the video, Jackie details Barrett’s struggles with mental health, his sexuality, and just life in general. “My son was not weak,” she says. “He was tired.”

“Mental health is not a joke,” she adds. “Suicide is not a joke.” Shortly after she posted it, the video began getting more views, more reaction, and then a friend reached out. Tabitha Manche, the mother of Barrett’s best friend who is also a counselor at a Hutchinson school, asked if she could use the video at work.

“We do a suicide awareness and prevention presentation to all staff. It’s mandatory at the beginning of the year, and obviously, I want that to be very impactful and meaningful and her video was,” Manche said.

The video serves as a reminder of what can happen. A sad and tragic telling of a story that, if nothing else, might help prevent it from happening again to someone else in this small town.

“You can’t close your eyes and pretend like it’s not here in your hometown because I can honestly say that I never thought it would happen to me,” Jackie said. “And that’s how the story always ends.”

Jackie had t-shirts made for all of Barrett’s friends that read “Barrett’s Voice.” When the pandemic ends, she plans to hold walks in his name to raise awareness for the LGBTQ community.

If you or someone you know would like to talk about any issues or struggles, you can find out how to begin having that conversation by contacting The Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas at (316) 652-2590.

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