The photo of the woman at the top of page A1 of last Sunday’s Bulletin was, at first glance, beguiling.
But after reading her story, it became haunting.
“Alysha Sarai Colvin, 37, was taking pottery classes and loved to cook. She painted watercolor landscapes and enjoyed camping and swimming. She was most comfortable outdoors and felt a deep connection to the earth.”
That was the lead line of the story that Bulletin reporter Shelby King wrote, a story whose headline read, “Body Found in Pioneer Park identified as suicide victim.”
The story described a woman who could not stop drinking, who threatened suicide, who was arrested for intoxication multiple times, who was well-known to police, who was in and out of treatment programs and whose arraignment on her latest DUII was scheduled for the day she was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in a public park.
And, with her number of DUII’s, she now faced serious jail time.
“Alysha had the ability to light up a room and make people feel like her smile was all she needed,” her cousin, Gabrielle Stevens, told The Bulletin.
It’s the same smile in the published photo.
Since that story and photo ran, several readers have asked why The Bulletin would describe the death as a suicide and identify the victim.
They are very good questions, for which, I think, there are good answers.
Tragically, there are many suicides in the communities we cover.
Each one is, in its own way, unique and hard to understand. And yet each, regardless of the reasons, is a tragedy.
To our way of thinking, each should remain as private as the personal torment that drives someone to such a desperate solution.
Alysha, however, chose a public forum.
She killed herself in a public park where people sit by the river, walk and have picnics.
And then, in full view of anyone passing by, the police arrived to investigate.
That, a suicide in public, met one of our guidelines.
It is impossible and irresponsible not to tell the public that this was not a murder.
A private suicide of a private person, which she was, would not be reported.
On the other hand, the suicide of a public figure has a better chance of being reported, whether in private or not, the reasoning being that this person’s loss impacts the community at large.
In Alysha’s case, her naming came at the instigation of her family, which believed that telling her story was an important tale for all to read.
To their great credit, they wanted to put a face on someone who challenged the community’s capacity to help, or not.
And from the community’s perspective, the story provided a venue for friends, acquaintances, police and other organizations to describe what they can do and what, just as importantly, they can’t do.
At the stage that Alysha was in, the social wreckage was likely very great, Dennis Crowell, a program director at BestCare Treatment Services in Redmond, told our reporter.
And Bend Police Capt. Cory Darling pointed out that they cannot just yank someone out of their home unless the person is an immediate danger to himself or herself or someone else.
It is heart rending for anyone touched by the situation.
But as Alysha’s mom, Naomi Cummings, said, “I think depression and addiction affects so many people’s lives. The only way to keep it from happening is to be open and not hide it.”
— John Costa is editor-in-chief of The Bulletin. Contact: 541-383-0337, firstname.lastname@example.org