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WITH VIDEO: Symbolic balloon launch held Wednesday as part of Suicide Prevention Week

Ashley Miller/Staff Photographer Brighton freshman Katelin Wiley looks up at the group of balloons students released during the Suicide Prevention Week symbolic balloon release Wednesday evening outside Charles V. Park Library.

Corrine Kay was sitting by the pond west of the Charles V. Park Library Wednesday evening when she noticed balloons being inflated nearby.

“The one night I decide to take a walk, and I find this happening,” Kay said.

The Ann Arbor freshman found about 30 students with yellow helium-filled balloons writing thoughts, poems and prayers on purple paper butterflies they then tied to a balloon’s string.

They were forming a circle and preparing to launch the butterflies and balloons into the sky in a symbolic launch as part of Suicide Prevention Week.

“I found out that the event was personal, because my dad died from suicide two years ago,” Kay said.

Her butterfly read, “I miss you Dad, you’re the best.”

“I don’t know where that balloon’s going to land, but I know he sees it,” she said.

Kay released her balloon after Barb Smith, founder of the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program Saginaw Chapter, gave a short speech to the circle.

“This is a symbolic release,” Smith said. “(We) release the balloon as a commitment to a new beginning.”

There was then a moment of silence.

Following the silence, about 30 butterflies fluttered on balloon strings into the sky as students released them at once. Some watched the balloons float away, some kept their eyes tightly closed and others cried. Everyone held his or her neighbor’s hand.

“You could see the pain in people’s eyes,” said David Opalewski, teacher education and professional development adjunct faculty.

In conjunction with Central Michigan University’s First Year Experience Program, Opalewski organized Suicide Prevention Week and the balloon launch.

“It took a lot of courage for people to come here tonight,” he said. “It’s a bit more solemn than the previous nights.”

Like Kay, Raquel Welsh has been affected by a family member's suicide.

“My uncle committed suicide in 2010,” the Eaton Rapids freshman said. “This week really matters to me.”

Welsh said she participated in a previous balloon launch for her uncle and found it helpful.

“It helps in showing that you didn’t forget,” Welsh said.

She described her uncle as fun to be around, and said he was quiet, but meaningful when he spoke.

“I wrote what I felt on the butterfly, and releasing the balloon, I felt like he could really know I care,” she said. “It was like he was there.”

Welsh said she felt relieved and at ease after the release, especially with others there.

“It’s nice to know it’s not just him up there, and that other people are there with him,” she said. “It’s important to take time to remember.”