MANASQUAN - Two families touched by suicide are turning a community tragedy into an opportunity for awareness, prevention and reflection.
Beginning in 2008, Manasquan became the center of what psychologists identify as a suicide cluster. In the small town and surrounding area, 10 young people took their own lives over the next few years.
The first teen to take his life was Tim Schenke, a promising, top-of-his class athlete, who appeared to have it all. On April 26, 2008, Tim excused himself from dinner and later stepped in front of a commuter train. He was just a few weeks from graduation.
Schenke’s mother, Lisa, says she did everything she could to help her son, but he lacked confidence and self-esteem.
Another teen took his life seven weeks later, then more followed.
Lisa Schenke felt compelled to do something. She started a website and wrote a memoir titled "Without Tim," where she shared her son's fall to suicide and her rise from grief. She works mostly as a resource and referral for families and spreads the word about groups like Manasquan-based You Cannot Be Replaced.
The organization is founded on the sentiment of Melissa and Chip Dayton's daughter Emily, who was a freshmen in high school when the suicides began.
The Daytons initially ordered 500 bracelets with the "You Cannot Be Replaced" message. A year later, they've distributed 14,000 wristbands across the country. They give assemblies in area schools, aiming to get young people to recognize value.
Melissa Dayton says the impact has been incredible. The family was out to dinner and spotted a wristband on their server, who said he had lost a friend, and wears the band in their honor. "And we said, wow! That little tiny wristband is such a symbol of something bigger," Dayton says.
Tuesday is World Suicide Prevention Day. Lisa Schenke is holding an official book release in Manasquan to mark the day of awareness.