In life, Sheri Shermeyer always had a smile on her face, according to posts to her Facebook page this week.

And then the unthinkable happened.

Pennsylvania State Police were dispatched to the Baltimore Street home Shermeyer shared with her husband about 1 p.m. Monday to conduct a welfare check, according to the York County Coroner’s Office. There, troopers found Shermeyer, 40, and her 1-year-old son dead in an apparent murder-suicide. It’s believed Shermeyer suffocated her son, John Shermeyer, before shooting herself.

Shermeyer posted to the social-media website one final time Monday, citing discontent in her marriage and feelings of neglect and emotional abuse as the cause for killing herself and her child.

Her death brings York County’s 2016 suicide count to 69. That’s up from 66 in 2015, but down from a 2014 high of 87, according to York County Coroner Pam Gay.

Despite a federal push to decrease suicide rates by 2020, the rate of suicide in the U.S. has increased from just less than 11 deaths per 100,000 people in 2006 to more than 13 in 2015.

On average, York County’s rate of 12.39 is higher than neighboring Lancaster and Dauphin counties, both of which are about 10 per 100,000, but lower than the state’s rate of 13.3, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention averages of 1999-2014 data.

About half of suicides nationally, and a little more than half in Pennsylvania and York County, are completed using a firearm, according to the state Department of Health.

'Copycats': In just the last week, Gay said, there have been four suicides in York County. The coroner’s office does not release the information to protect privacy and discourage “copycats,” she said, or those who might be influenced by the reasons someone had or means someone used to complete a suicide.

Gay volunteers with the York County Suicide Prevention Coalition, run out of the Southern Community Services office in Shrewsbury.

According to its website, SCS helps southern York County residents to overcome human-service needs and become more economically stable.  Over the last few years, the group has identified suicide in southern York County as a “significant issue” and initiated awareness and prevention programming in response. In addition, SCS provides counseling, online counseling and case management.

Though coalition director Cindy Richard says there have not been any suspected “copycat” suicides in 2016, they’ve happened in the past, and Richard and Gay worry more might occur.

““The number one thing that people are that down and out or they are contemplating suicide, they’ll think 'Somebody finally listened to me' or 'This is the way I can get my voice out there,'” Richard said. “It’s a fine line. It’s a gray space there, but you’re dealing with people that have major mental health issues.”

Richard said she worried that anyone feeling as “helpless and hopeless,” as she imagines Shermeyer must have felt Monday morning, might be influenced to do the same by her final words.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, her final Facebook post had been shared almost 600 times and received more than 600 comments.

What can you do? Talking about suicide doesn’t make it happen, Richard said, but it can help prevent it.

“I think when someone is talking to you or talking to anyone, they hear the hopelessness and the comments in their language and behaviors. We need to ask them that. Do you feel hopeless? Do you feel helpless? What can we do to change this?” Richard said.

When hints are posted, said or shared, they should be taken as signs for help, she said.

“I think if anyone is feeling like they want to take their own life or have someone in their family who has been contemplating suicide, reach out and get support,” she said. “They can always call my office. If you feel like it’s that situation, they need to call Crisis or Mobile Crisis and get them the help that they need.”

A post to Shermeyer’s Facebook page on Christmas Day read, "Sometimes what you're most afraid of doing is the very thing that will set you free." Last month, she reposted a number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline, and in October, she shared a graphic about being "the girl that talks others out of suicide but has a hard time doing the same for herself."

Richard suggests that those who start feeling helpless or hopeless should reach out to friends, family members, hotlines or community organizations such as the York County Suicide Prevention Coalition. 

The volunteer coalition hosts support groups on Tuesdays throughout the county: the first Tuesday of each month, it's at the Dover United Church of Christ, 45 W. Canal St.; the second Tuesday, at Dataforma on the York College campus; and the third Tuesday at the SCS office, 44 S. Main St., Shrewsbury. All meetings are from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and do not require a commitment or sign-up.

“The best thing someone can do for someone is to listen to them,” Richard said.

Autopsies of the mother and child are scheduled for Wednesday at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

York County Suicides

2011: 56
2012: 58
2013: 68
2014: 87
2015: 66
2016: 69

Source: York County Coroner

Who to call

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, there is help available:

WellSpan Behavioral Health Crisis Intervention: 800-673-2496 or 717-851-5320

York County Suicide Prevention Coalition: 717-227-0048

TrueNorth Wellness Crisis Intervention Services: 866-325-0339 or 717-637-7633

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

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