CLEARWATER, Fla. - Two mothers of Pinellas County teen swimmers are turning their grief into action to raise awareness about suicide after their sons took their own lives.
The East Lake High School swim and dive team warmed up for a meet Wednesday night, missing one of its members, 16-year-old Ian Ezquerra.
"Ian was my only son. I have no other children to look to, to think about raising. And right now, your entire future is just gone," said Ian's mother Jennifer Mitchell.
Ian took his own life before the start of the 2019-2020 school year in Pinellas County, her son's promising future in swimming and college cut short.
"I was so proud of him, so excited, and now I'm devastated," said Mitchell.
She is not the only mother to suffer such a loss. Jody Sanders said it's been five years since her son Vance Sanders died by suicide. He was also a member of the East Lake swim team.
"When he took his life, it was an absolute shock. It was a shock our whole entire family, our club, our community," said Sanders.
Now both mothers are on a mission to raise awareness. Sanders is working with athletic coaches and schools to speak to teens about suicide.
"If you feel like you're on top of a burning building, you're not. There is a way out. We have a way to help you," said Sanders.
She said her son hid his suffering well. Vance was a victim of bullying and faced issues with coaches, Sanders said.
The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay said signs include circumstances like humiliation, rejection, disappointment or getting into trouble; behaviors sign can include withdrawal from family and friends, giving away personal belongings, disconnecting from social media or even sending vague messages on social media.
Those are signs parents and other teens need to watch for. Ian's mother noticed signs after her son's death.
"I plead to every other kid out there, if they see something like another kid taking pictures of guns and putting hashtag hype Russian roulette, you need to speak up and say something," said Mitchell.
The mothers said open communication with your child is vital, and they hope sharing their pain will help prevent the loss of another child.
"All I can say is even if it helps one parent and one child, that makes a difference. It makes a huge difference," said Mitchell.
Sanders started a nonprofit called Vance Lives, Inc. in her son's honor and has started to host swim-a-thons to raise awareness about suicide among teens. Mitchell is in the process of formalizing her nonprofit calling Ian's Way, which she hopes will serve as a peer counseling resource and a safe place for teens to talk and encourage one another.
If you are having thoughts of suicide or know someone who needs help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255(TALK) or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. You can also call 211 to reach the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.