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Families of suicide victims share stories at Long Beach walk

Pride for Youth's Jarod Di Matos, 18, of

Pride for Youth's Jarod Di Matos, 18, of Oceanside, holds a sign to raise awareness of suicide prevention, during the Long Island Crisis Center 7th annual Let's Walk Let's Talk... Stepping Together to Prevent Suicide, on Sept. 20, 2015, on the Long Beach Boardwalk, in Long Beach. Credit: Heather Walsh

When Angelo Cervasio returned from the U.S. Air Force, he grew "isolated" and rarely spoke of his time in the service, his mother, Virginia Cervasio, recalled.

But she considered the stoicism a mark of his military training.

"We thought the Air Force made a man out of him," she said Sunday. But his suicide on Jan. 17, 2006, and a goodbye note that offered no explanation, puzzled his grieving family.

Cervasio was speaking on a bandwagon facing the Long Beach boardwalk, at the seventh annual suicide prevention event, "Let's Walk Let's Talk."

Organizers from the Long Island Crisis Center in Bellmore have worked to "destigmatize suicide," said Fran Karliner, the center's director of development.

Suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In recent years, the outreach has been tailored to veterans. In response to the growing number of veteran suicides nationally, the crisis center began the Saving Our Long Island Veterans initiative. According to a 2013 Department of Veterans Affairs study, a veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes.

Since the initiative began, the center has heard from an average of two veterans a day calling the confidential hotline. Karliner said she believes the veterans are comfortable asking for help anonymously.

"Because they are trained to be self-sufficient, it almost is a stigma in itself to ask for help," Karliner said.

At the event, relatives of suicide victims shared stories before walking on the boardwalk, while some held posters remembering their loved ones. About 400 people attended the event, Karliner said.

Jill Estes, an HIV navigator at Pride For Youth, a project of the crisis center, said workers struggle with the high suicide rates in the community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning youth. "It's very important we have visibility here," Estes said. "A lot of things don't really emphasize inclusion for the LGBTQ youth."

Angelo Cervasio, who died at age 24, was a graduate of Locust Valley High School, and is buried at the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale. He had worked in communications management in the Air Force in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf.

Virginia Cervasio said looking back, her son "had all the signs" associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We weren't educated," said Cervasio, who launched a nonprofit aimed at suicide prevention. "We didn't know the signs."

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