By Tim Eberly
They were at different stages in their lives. Daniel had come out of his shell as of late, and just started his third semester at Montana State University-Northern. Tyler, five years his junior, was halfway through his education at Havre High, still struggling to open up to those outside his immediate circle of family and friends.
But within the last 10 months, Daniel and Tyler Hockett killed themselves, 8 1/2 months apart. Both shot themselves in the head. Neither left a note.
"It's unfathomable," said Cindy Hockett, Tyler's birth mother and Daniel's former stepmother. "One death was hard enough in this way, but to lose both the boys in such a short period of time, is more than any family should have to deal with."
Daniel was 20 when he ended his life on Oct., 14. Thursday was the two-month anniversary of 16-year-old Tyler's death. To this day, Cindy and Jeff Hockett, who divorced in 1995, say their sons left behind no clues, no cries for help. There is no history of mental illness or depression on either side of the Hockett family, and Daniel and Tyler did not have substance-abuse problems, they said. Nor were they disciplinary problems at school.
"There weren't any events leading up to it," Cindy, 44, said. "There was no indication whatsoever of Daniel planning to hurt himself. It was very spontaneous. And Tyler was the absolute same way."
Daniel had just begun mapping out his life. The previous semester, in January 1999, he changed his major from computer science to diesel technology. He put a five-month stint with the National Guard behind him, choosing instead to attend college. He just finished applying for a handful of diesel technology apprenticeships on the West Coast. And he was inches from earning his black belt in tae kwon doe through a local karate club. Also, he and Jeff were in the process of repairing Daniel's prized 1992 Mercury Grand Marquis, which was damaged a few weeks before when he hit a deer.
On Friday, Oct. 13, Daniel drove to downtown Havre with a neighbor to play pool. Early the next morning, his paternal grandfather, Robert Hockett, went to fetch Daniel so they could work the cattle together, and found Daniel's lifeless body in his mobile home on the property of Jeff's 5,000-acre farm.
"It changed things tremendously," said Jeff Hockett, whose first wife, Jennifer Hockett Daniel's natural mother was fatally wounded in a car accident by a drunken driver when Daniel was 3. Pregnant with her second child, Jennifer Hockett suffered severe brain swelling and slipped into a coma for four days before dying. "I guess I deal with it from day to day. You just go on the best you can."
When a family member commits suicide, the probability of the surviving relatives attempting to take their lives increases. After Daniel died, the Hockett family did not seek counseling. Kay Nessland, a guidance counselor at Havre High and the co-chair of the Mental Health Awareness Council, offered her services to Tyler. He refused.
Instead, he internalized his emotions. The first time Cindy Hockett saw her son cry over his dead brother was at Daniel's memorial service. When the song "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan which was also played at Daniel's mother's memorial service in 1983 filled the church, Tyler broke down and wept.
Music was one thing that could penetrate Tyler's defenses. His room at Cindy Hockett's house is wallpapered with posters of his favorite bands, such as Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day. For four years, when he wasn't playing paintball with his friends, Tyler played trumpet in the school band. Yet by mid-summer, his parents felt Tyler harbored unresolved issues about Daniel's death, and they discussed sending him to a therapist just a few days before he died.
But on June 30, during a lunch break from working at the wheat, barley and cattle farm, Tyler walked out on the front deck and duplicated his brother's final act. Michele, 13, was out playing miniature golf with a friend, and returned to the house to find their dog peering out the front window, whining. Once she inched closer, she laid eyes on her dead brother. Instantly, the youngest of three became an only child.
"I looked out there and I was going to call (the dog) up to pet him for a while and I saw Tyler," Michelle said. "I was kind of hysterical. I didn't know what to do."
At Tyler's memorial service, his friends requested one of his favorite songs Green Day's "Time of Your Life" be played. Two weeks later, on the morning of June 14 also the nine-month anniversary of Daniel's passing Cindy's co-workers surprised her with an intimate ceremony at the Hill County Fairgrounds to plant two maple trees in memory of her sons. Michele helped organize the refreshments for the service, which included Kool-Aid and Pop Tarts, Tyler's "breakfast of champions," Cindy said.
But Cindy Hockett cannot rest. She has absorbed a life supply of pain in the recent months. On Aug. 21, she temporarily resigned for a year from her reading tutor position at Lincoln-McKinley Elementary School. But she has a plan.
"I've just made a conscious decision that I'm not going to lay down and give up," she said. "I am going to stand up and fight. I have too much life to live and I want to make a difference. There needs to be something positive to come of all this tragedy."
Montana has the second-highest suicide rate (18.7 suicides per 100,000 people) in the United States, according to a nine-year study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Only Nevada has a higher rate (27.8), and Wyoming, with a rate of 22.4, is third.
The CDC also reports that Hill County has a suicide rate of 18.7, significantly higher than the national average of 13.2.
Further, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between the age of 15 and 24. And despite good intentions, no suicide prevention programs in schools have ever been proven to be effective, according to a December 1999 document by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Six years ago, Havre High founded the Mental Health Awareness Council for suicide prevention training. It sponsors a citywide program the QPR Education Program that instructs teachers, students, police officers, hospital employees and community members about warning signs and intervention techinques of a suicidal person. Nessland lists the benefits of the program but concedes, "There's always room for improvement." Cindy said she believes the program is ineffective.
The students "think it's bogus," Cindy said. "The program they have doesn't tell them anything. It doesn't help. It's not that their intentions aren't good but they don't have the information at this point."
She wants to work toward improving the program, to deter students from making the choice her sons made. She deposited Tyler's last paycheck from the IGA, where he worked as a grocery bagger, and memorial donations received after his death a total of $500 in a bank account at the Bear Paw Credit Union as startup funds for the cause. She has discussed with Tyler's friends, who still attend Havre High, and Michele, the possibility of speaking to their peers about the perils of suicide.
"If we had a program that included Tyler's friends, they could stand up and talk to their school," said Michele, an eighth-grader at Havre Middle School. "I could do it with Tyler's friends or I could do it my myself in the middle school."
However, there is no definitive plan of action yet. Cindy just knows something needs to be done. The Rev. Brad Ulgenes of the First Lutheran Church wants to help. Before Ulgenes moved to Havre in June, he lived in Dillon for 11 years, where he helped found a suicide prevention program, the Dillon Community Task Force, in November after a local family lost two sons to suicide. Also, Cindy has considered asking a MSU-Billings philosophy professor named David Karnos, who teaches a week-long conference titled "The Enigma of Teen Suicide: Prevention, Intervention, and Post-vention," to speak in Havre.
"I think there are some good things in the community that can come of this," Ulgenes said. "Hopefully, we can save a life."
The Hocketts have sought counseling since Tyler's death. Cindy has been careful not to smother Michele, but, as Cindy says, she is all she has left. Tyler's friends come over periodically for spaghetti dinners at Cindy's house, telling stories and reminiscing. To many of them, Cindy is like a second mother, and she wants to protect them and the rest of Havre from what most do not consider a serious threat.
"No one thinks it can happen to their family," Cindy said. "Well, guess what? Suicide doesn't discriminate either. It would be nice if Havre was known for something other than its high suicide rate."