On November 23, 2016, we came home from work and found our son, Arthur, dead by his own hand. He was fourteen.
The police arrived and conducted an investigation. They were not only very professional but compassionate as well and were a great help to us that night. Eventually they made the determination that it was a simple suicide.
Is there really such a thing?
Arthur’s actions made no sense to us. Just the day before, he and his father were planning their adventures for the Spring and Summer. His mother and he had a “Make Dinner Together” date for the next evening (she was teaching him to cook). Nothing seemed to be wrong. He was improving vastly at school; he joined the Robotics Club and was making new friends. We thought the transition from Middle School to High School was going well.
We have since found out differently. Arthur was being severely bullied at North Hagerstown High School. He kept this – not only from us – but from some of his closest friends. We know that he was protecting at least one of his friends from retribution by not naming his persecutors.
We know quite a bit now but we are still searching for answers. We will probably never understand all of what was going on in his life but we feel compelled to try to find out. We also feel that we need to do something. On a lonely, sad, night hike on the C&O Canal the idea for the 186 Miles Project formed in my mind.
Perhaps we can make some good come from this devastating tragedy in our lives.
Many who knew Arthur were unaware that he loved being out in the woods and rivers as much as he loved video games and science. This started with fishing when he was too little to hold a fishing rod and became more so when he took up photography as a 6th grader. Our most treasured memories of Arthur are of he and his father exploring some new area, laughing and joking with each other the whole time. Even in places that Trent knows well, he cherishes the experience and memory of seeing them with renewed wonder through Arthur’s eyes. One of the many photography/writing projects that Arthur and Trent talked about doing was a series of photo-journalistic articles to showcase the scenic beauty and history about specific areas on the C&O Canal that they visited.
Shortly after he left us, Trent was feeling particularly miserable one evening and went out to McCoy’s Ferry on the Canal. He sat down in the dark at the base of one of his favorite trees, and had a good cry – but, he also had an idea. The idea was this: walk the entire one hundred eighty-four and a half miles of the C&O canal, plus one more (and a bit) to go that extra mile, with some of Arthur’s ashes (so he can go, at least in spirit, to places he never got to in life), photograph the trip and write about it.
We will write this book to celebrate Arthur’s life by traveling to the places he loved. We will use his photographs wherever we can. Also included will be side trips to other sites he loved like Green Ridge State Forest and Antietam Battlefield – places that have a connection with the Potomac River and the Canal. All proceeds from this book will go to anti-bullying and teen suicide prevention programs. A great man once said that if you can make a difference in just one person’s life for the better, you have accomplished something to be proud of. We aim to do a bit more.
Words cannot express the pain we are in. A great and brilliant light in the world has been extinguished. We have not just lost a son; we have lost the greatest of friends. And Trent lost his beloved partner in adventures.
Everyone – family, friends, classmates, or those that just want to make a difference – are invited to participate in this project. Walk along with us for part of the way, help with logistics, publicize awareness, and find corporate sponsors to donate to the aforementioned causes – anything we can do as a community to stop our children from being hurt is of the utmost importance.
Our basic philosophy is teaching by example done in a gentle respectful manner. But this method should not be perceived as weakness or complacency. Too many groups that have anti-bullying programs just talk or only want to recommend bullying victims to ineffective counseling. Anti-bullying programs in schools do not work. Aside from just looking at the statistics of school violence and teenage suicide rates (which are growing quickly), our children are often going to class in a climate of fear and will not report bullying of themselves or of others for fear of retaliation.
The schools can’t seem to do anything effective about this, nor in some cases do they seem to really care. Often when these problems come to light in the public school systems, the victim is treated just the same as the perpetrator – sometimes worse – and has to suffer through retribution of the bully afterwards. This process is in dire need of change.
Bullying is a learned behavior that does not stop when a bully leaves school; it continues into adulthood. Something that should be pointed out is, according to the Center for Disease Control, perpetrators of bullying are at the same risk for suicidal thoughts and long term psychological problems as their victims.*
Perpetrators of bullying actively attempt to break down their victim’s self-confidence. We believe that building self-confidence in victims or potential victims of bullying is an important part of the solution. We will be looking for instructors to teach effective anti-cyber bullying methods as well as promoting basic physical self-defense classes for kids, teens, and adults that feel they need to learn those kinds of skills.
Being outside in the woods and other wild places was something that Arthur enjoyed; he also enjoyed learning how to do things in the out-of-doors. By teaching outdoor skills as well as ethical behavior in these places, we can help build confidence in those who need it and promote the ethic of stewardship of the earth that should be a part of everyone’s way of life. Plus being in wild places is simply just good for you and can help a troubled soul.
We are not trained psychologists, counselors, or health care professionals, but we can organize, we have applicable strengths, and we are gaining experience. We are willing to learn and teach what we discover. This project is for everyone, but most of all for our son Arthur.
An Evolving Project
Since the initial idea we have learned even more and are, over time, now able to see things in a broader perspective. There is much more that can and should be done. We are coming up with longer range goals to alleviate some of the problems that are all too evident in our society. This is and will be a constantly evolving program.
Initial Project Goals
The first part of the project is to complete a through hike of the C&O canal National Historic Park to collect information and photography to write the book celebrating Arthur’s life in some of the places that he loved.
The second part is to form a continuing program promoting anti-bullying, teen suicide prevention, and stewardship of both natural places and our own behavior as a society.
As we see it, talking to small groups in wild places, if possible, will make all of us better at being human beings and possibly modify this destructive pattern of behavior. Promoting programs such as Leave No Trace, supporting organizations that promote stewardship such as the C&O Canal Association, building self-confidence by teaching outdoor skills in kids, teens, or adults that may be at risk will be our chosen conduit.
Long Term Goals
- Co-ordinate with other organizations that have effective anti-bullying and anti-suicide prevention programs.
- Fundraise for and promote such programs through the 186 Miles Project.
- Educate both young persons and adults in ethical behavior, both in the wild and in everyday life.
- Educate parents and guardians on what signs to look for when their child or children are being bullied.
- Educate children and at-risk youth on what to do if they or a friend are being bullied.
- Work closely with organizations that promote conservation and stewardship of wild places.
- Work to change legislation to make anti-bullying laws actually have legal ramifications for the perpetrators.
- Continue a tradition of a yearly trip on the C&O Canal or on the Potomac river (or in associated areas) in remembrance of Arthur and others in similar circumstances.
- Provide opportunities for anyone to get out and walk in nature on day hikes, and also to provide opportunities and means to accomplish service oriented projects, trail maintenance, trash clean-ups, etc.
- Offer instruction in basic and advanced outdoor skills emphasizing Leave No Trace principles and ethical outdoors behavior.
- Eventually expand from day hikes to multi-day hikes, canoeing, outdoor photography, interpretive history classes, basic survival skills, archaeology (through Little Antietam Creek Institute) and possibly rock climbing trips with the same goals as above.
What We Need From You
Bullying is not a simple problem to fix. The solution to alleviating the problems associated with it needs to be a group effort. We need to act as a community to fix this state of affairs, and the 186 Miles Project needs your help. We need your support and your ideas. Everyone is affected by this problem and we should all be working together to fix it. Please feel free to contact us with your thoughts and ideas. We are often out hiking and doing trail maintenance on the C&O Canal as well as in other areas and your company on these ventures is always welcome. We will be scheduling both walking and volunteer opportunities in the near future.