Town finds ways to address suicide prevention

COPAKE–The January 21 suicide of local dairy farmer Dean Pierson, who shot 51 of his dairy cows before turning the gun on himself, had a profound effect on the community and has led to plans for a public discussion about suicide.

Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia, a suicide survivor who lost her sister Julie McKenna to suicide a couple of years ago, is heading up an effort to start a suicide task force in town to promote suicide awareness and prevention.

Speaking at the March 13 Town Board meeting, Ms Gabaccia said that in the U.S. 30,000 people die by suicide annually. It is the fourth leading cause of death in adults, the eleventh cause of death in general. Every 16 minutes someone dies as a result of suicide and someone attempts suicide every minute.

Working with her on the task force project are Rose Aulino and Joan Spencer, who lost her teenage son, Jeffrey Taylor, to suicide 18 months ago.

The wife of Town Justice John Spencer, Mrs. Spencer has become a suicide and bullying prevention activist, starting a movement called Jeffrey’s Journey to seek change. She told those present at the meeting that the Pierson tragedy was “a wake-up call” and said there were 20 suicides in Columbia County in 2008.

“The world is changing,” she said, noting the stresses facing both the younger and older generations today are different.

“I have learned we need to reach out, come together and build each other up, not tear each other down.”

She said text messages, phone conversations and email are no substitute for human contact. “Know what your neighbors are doing, reach out to them, find out what you can do to help.”

Working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) for the past 18 months, Mrs. Spencer said she will arrange a community information meeting. “People need to know the signs and symptoms of suicide, they will teach you, and you can take the ball from there,” she said.

“You don’t want to go to work in the morning and come home at night and find that life has changed forever. After you lose a child to suicide everything changes,” she said.

“There is life before and life after suicide,” said Ms. Gabaccia, who proposed a three-pronged approach to the issue: a crisis intervention strategy, a non-governmental community information meeting to promote awareness and participation in an upcoming 18-mile walk to raise funds for AFSP programs.

Looking for a way the Town Board could help with the effort, Supervisor Reggie Crowley suggested the sponsorship of a local fundraising event.

Mrs. Spencer said there is a countywide ASFP walk, and half of the funds raised by the event are invested directly in the ASFP local chapter.

Kirk Kneller, the town’s insurance agent and the sponsor/organizer of the walk/run events at Copake Community Day, suggested and ASFP fundraiser could be conducted in conjunction with Community Day, which takes place annually in June.

Head of the park commission Ralph Platt said, “The park would love to be involved with something like this.”

A short time later in the meeting, Councilman Bob Sacks announced a “challenge,” saying that he and Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea would match all donation pledges to the ASFP made by anyone in the room by the end of the meeting.

”We want to get out in front of this,” said Ms. Gabaccia.

Anyone interested in contacting Mrs. Spencer should email her at or call (518) 755-6477.

NOTE: The body of John D. Picarello, 22, of Copake, was found at the edge of the cornfield that surrounds the Copake Cemetery March 20. Police suspect Mr. Picarello, who had been missing since December 1, 2009, committed suicide by overdosing on prescription medication.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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