In wake of a suicide, friends and family share message of hope
Emily Martin knows it's a sad cliche to say her friend was the last person anyone would expect to take his own life.
"I know everyone says that when someone commits suicide," she said, talking about Trent Bartz, the Hellam Township 20-year-old who killed himself Aug. 19. But she says it anyway, and then repeats it — she really, truly believes it's the case.
The loved ones of Trent don't know why he did it. Probably no one will ever know quite why.
But they did want to talk about it; Martin said suicide and its causes are something that get swept under the rug too much.
'Crashing down': Martin, who knew Bartz for a few years and dated him for a couple of those, said a bunch of things "came crashing down on him at the same time." That includes him being dismissed from Shippenburg University, where he and Martin, 19, would have been sophomores, because his grades weren't good enough. It also includes his and Martin's breakup and some other personal and family issues, Martin said.
But she said the almost three-year member of the Army Reserve still seemed pretty happy. She and his father, Bruce Bartz, said Trent was a caring guy with a big personality who always wanted to put a smile on everyone's faces.
"Instead of waving to you across the store, he'd come give you a hug," Bruce Bartz said.
Maybe what confounds them both the most is that he had plans. He had things he wanted to do — further his career in the Army, be part of the color guard, eventually join the Army Rangers.
He had more minor, day-to-day plans; he talked about new tattoos he wanted, ones that would supplement the Spartan head on his chest and the Bible verse on his side. He talked all the time about what was to come, they said, even in the days before he took his own life. He had goals. He had dreams. He sure seemed like he had every intention in the world of keeping moving forward.
But he didn't.
Experience: His father, a retired police officer who worked for the Hellam Township Police Department and the now defunct Windsor Township Police Department over the course of 25 years, has investigated his fair share of suicides. His professional experience backs up what Martin said — people rarely see the signs until afterward. He's been looking, but he feels like he still doesn't know why.
"I haven't seen anything yet, haven't found anything yet," Bruce Bartz said.
He said Trent had an up-and-down childhood and was bullied in the ninth grade to the point that his father took him out of school and home-schooled him. Trent had a level of anger, of frustration, within him, but it'd never come out, Bruce Bartz said.
But, Bartz guesses, it ate at him, and eventually, without anyone being able to tell, consumed him.
"He never wanted to burden anybody with his problems," Bruce Bartz said. And that's admirable in a way, he said, but you can't go through life like that — we all have our demons, he said.
"You need to be open about your hurting; you need to bring it out," Bruce Bartz said. "You need to seek help."
But even that isn't the way it should be, Bruce Bartz thinks.
"Don't put the burden on the person who needs the help" to get help themselves, he said.
Reach out: He plans to be very proactive, reaching out to people he cares about and trying to give help before it's needed. He said he doesn't know of any real organized way to get people to do that more often, but he hopes to try to do a little bit of good in terms of that by himself, at least.
Martin has similar thoughts. She and some of Trent's other friends have started a GoFundMe campaign that's looking to raise money to pay for the funeral services — Trent Bartz will have a full military burial at 6 p.m. Thursday at Living Word Community Church, 2530 Cape Horn Road in Red Lion. As of Tuesday night, the page had raised more than $1,100.
But his friends also are putting together a team to take part in the Out of the Darkness Walk on Sept. 12 in Harrisburg, an event aimed at raising awareness about and preventing suicide.
"We're trying to raise awareness — open eyes," she said.
Bruce Bartz thinks the idea many people hold that the act of seeking help is an admission of weakness, meaning the seeker is a worse soldier, cop or person, played a role in his son not reaching out and seeking help.
"Part of it is that stigma that you get, that attachment that you get that you're 'the crazy guy' or whatever," he said.
"I totally disagree with that," Bruce Bartz said. We all have weaknesses; we all have our demons, he said again.
"It's frustrating that someone like Trent who touched so many people can't come out and say, 'I need help,'" he said.
— Reach Sean Cotter at firstname.lastname@example.org.