Their 13-year-old son died by suicide. They want to help save others. – NBC 6 South Florida
Family videos and photos have captured countless moments in Colin Happ’s life: birthdays, vacations, family trips and many outdoor adventures.
“He was funny, had such a sense of humor, was kind, loving, always had a smile on his face,” his mother Colleen Happ said during an interview with NBC 6.
“He loved everything he did, especially the outdoors,” his father Bryan Happ said.
His parents said Colin was enjoying his freshman year at Calvary Christian Academy, a private school in Fort Lauderdale owned by the megachurch Calvary Chapel.
“He seemed to like it. He had made many new friends. He was doing well in school. Everything has gone well so far,” Colleen said.
They said Colin got in trouble in March 2020 after he admitted selling a vape pen to another student and was expelled as a result.
“We knew there would be consequences, but we thought it was so drastic and we begged them to give it another chance. You know, it was just a kid who made a mistake” , said Colleen, adding, “No matter how much we begged them, they just said no.
On March 4, 2020, a day after his eviction, Colin was left home alone.
His mother remembered what she had said to her son before leaving for work that morning.
“’I’ll see you when I get home and we’ll figure out what our next steps are. I love you so much,’ and I’m gone,” Colleen said. “That was my last conversation with him.”
Colin committed suicide that day. He was only 13 years old.
“It’s something you never recover from, you just learn to live with it. Every day, take one day at a time and learn to live with it,” Bryan told NBC 6.
More than two dozen children and teenagers
Colin is one of 29 teenagers and children who have died by suicide in Broward and Miami-Dade since 2019, according to records provided by county medical examiners. Some of them were only 10 and 11 years old.
While representing a very small fraction of suicide deaths in our region, experts point to a worrying trend.
“For years, 10 to 14 year olds in the county, as well as in Florida, when you look at causes of death, the second leading cause of death has been suicide for that age group,” said Karen Liller, professor at the University of South Florida. .
Liller is part of a team investigating suicide deaths in the state of Florida involving teens and young adults.
Without speaking specifically about Colin’s case, she said it was important to maintain open communication at home and at school, as well as look for the warning signs.
“You really have to be so aware of behavioral changes, of differences, of something they’re doing, what they’re saying, depression, sadness,” Liller said.
No warning signs
Colin’s family told NBC 6 there were no warning signs.
“Colin had no mental health issues. He was the happiest child, he always had a smile on his face, he was living his life to the full,” his mother said.
“There was no doubt in my mind that what Colin did was related to what happened to him the night before at school,” Bryan added.
The family are now suing Calvary Chapel and a school administrator, claiming they failed to “adequately assess” whether Colin was in crisis and failed to provide “necessary services to minimize the risk of self-harm or suicide”.
“When you’re a believer and a follower of Christ, as Colin was, it’s at the core of your life, it’s part of your identity,” attorney Thomas Scolaro said. “They took away everything he believed in.”
Scolaro is representing the family in the lawsuit against Calvary Chapel.
“Rather than using it as a teaching moment, they used it as a punitive moment,” Scolaro said, referring to Colin’s expulsion.
School policy leaves discretion to the school administration when it comes to expelling students.
NBC 6 contacted the school administrator and representatives for the school and Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale.
Katy Mills, spokeswoman for Calvary Chapel, sent us this statement: “As you mentioned in your email, this is a very sensitive matter, and we do not believe the details of the death tragedy of Colin should be discussed in the press out of respect. for the family. In March 2020, our school community was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Colin Happ. Colin was loved by his friends, teachers and school staff. It was a devastating loss for his family and his community, and a tragedy that forever marked all who knew him. Our hearts and prayers are always with his family as we all continue to mourn the loss of this precious child. As a church and school ministry, our commitment is always to care for those who are hurting and to offer ongoing comfort and support to families.
We also contacted Mitchell Lundeen, who is representing Calvary Chapel and the school administrator in the civil case. He declined to comment, writing in an email: “When I am involved in litigation as a lawyer, I believe it is in my client’s best interest not to comment.”
Calvary Chapel and the school administrator are trying to dismiss the case in court, saying the family agreed to settle any claims or disputes through “biblical mediation” when Colin was enrolled, adding that if mediation fails, they are bound by arbitration.
But Scolaro said the deal ended when Colin was kicked out.
In memory of Colin
Bryan and Colleen said it took time and a lot of prayer to be able to talk about what happened to Colin. But they decided to share their story because they hope they can help others who are struggling.
“We don’t want another parent to have to lose a child over such a senseless thing,” Collen said.
“No problem is too big to overcome. Kids need to understand that,” Bryan added.
The family said they keep Colin’s memory alive by writing him letters at Christmas, releasing balloons on his birthdays and keeping his bedroom the same way he left it.
“I am in contact with Colin every day… I am very in tune with him. I continually feel his presence. I really do. Until we meet again, I’m going to feel this every day,” Bryan said while fighting back tears. “He loved life, he really loved life.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME at 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.