On Nov. 5, 2011, the lives of an area family changed forever when 17-year-old Thomas Karlin committed suicide. Coming as a complete shock to his family, friends and church, the handsome, friendly young man was – unknown to those that loved him – silently tormented by pain and angst.
Tom was a senior at Shawnee Mission West High School in Lenexa, Kansas. He was a model student; a member of the National Honor Society, Business Professionals Association, freshmen mentoring program, on-the-job training, tennis, cross-country, bowling and football. He was on the Principal’s Honor Roll, a scholar athlete and received academic letters.
He was kind and considerate. Repeatedly his friends and family mentioned to Tom’s family how he had never said a bad word about another, and always had a smile on his face.
His father is Joe Karlin, who grew up in Great Bend. He sent a letter to the editor of the Great Bend Tribune that ran on Nov. 22, 2011.
The letter read, “As we’ve started this journey which we’ll travel the rest of our lives, we have been shocked at the number of people who have informed us of family members or friends who attempted or committed suicide. Having been happily ignorant of that sadness and pain, we are now thrust into it and can no longer ignore it.”
“They were the perfect family, clean-cut all-American family,” said Mary Waite, Tom’s aunt. His death rocked not only his immediate family, but also his extended family who had never experienced such a tragedy.
“His parents noticed he seemed to be staying home more in the month prior to the suicide,” she said. “They didn’t think too much about it. He had friends. At the time the change was so subtle that it escaped serious consideration.
“It just makes me sad,” Mary continued. “His parents were very involved in their children’s life. They went to church.”
After Tom’s death, a police detective was assigned to the case. The young man had written a suicide note that the detective recommended the family not see for a couple of weeks until after they had buried Tom.
In the note, Tom said that he was molested in his childhood, but did not say by whom. He stated that he could no longer live with the pain and disgust of that abuse.
Apparently, it is unusual for suicide victims to leave a letter. Mary thinks the note came from deep inside Tom’s soul. “His note was a gift,” she said, providing understanding to his family.
According to Mary’s research, one in six boys is molested and the vast majority know the perpetrator.
“I see the pain in Joe and Amy’s life,” said Mary. “What this person that did this took from them. How painful.
“They buried their own child,” she said. “We went from the Karlin family to “that” family. It wounded us.”
The family is trying to live with the new normal. But the attitudes of family members have changed. “We aren’t as trusting. But we’re less judgmental and it has made us open to other hurts,” said Tom’s aunt. “We also now realize that we don’t know what has occurred in a person’s life that shapes their attitudes and actions. We don’t know how each person is equipped, or not equipped, to deal with those experiences. But if we could have gotten him help, the outcome could be different. So we want to share his story and get help for others who are hurting.”
Tom’s family has established a foundation on his behalf for suicide prevention. Information on the Foundation can be found on Facebook by searching for the Tom Karlin Foundation