Archive for Sunday, September 3, 2000

Suicide prevention foundation director loses 2 sons to suicide

September 3, 2000


— After Les Franklin's teen-age son committed suicide, he channeled his grief into helping others and founded a suicide prevention organization so other families wouldn't endure similar tragedies.

But ten years after the suicide of Shaka Franklin, Les Franklin has found himself inexplicably reliving the same nightmare: His troubled son, Jamon, committed suicide last month.

Jamon, 31, was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in a remodeled blue Cadillac parked in a four-car garage at the family's home, which doubles as headquarters for the Shaka Franklin Foundation for Youth.

Now Franklin is stepping away from that organization as he struggles to deal with his confusion and grief.

"I get angry with myself even though I know if I had done everything perfectly, this still could have happened," Franklin, 61, said. "I just don't have it in me to go out and talk to kids about taking their lives."

The risk of suicide is thought to be up to 12 times higher for people whose immediate family members have committed suicide, but it is uncommon to find multiple suicides in a family because the suicide rate is low, said Dr. David Brent, academic chief of child psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

"It's still a rare occurrence," Brent said. "It's just so devastating when it does happen."

Statistics show 11 in 100,000 people committed suicide nationally in 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, Franklin was an Air Force lieutenant and IBM executive for 25 years. He also directed the governor's Job Training Office, resigning in 1995 for an unsuccessful run for Congress.

In 1990, Franklin returned home to find his 16-year-old son, Shaka, had killed himself in a downstairs bedroom of the family's 7,200-square-foot home.

Shaka's suicide was attributed to his mother's failing health and an injury that ended his football season at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Franklin resigned from his jobs and founded the Shaka Franklin Foundation for Youth, which offered programs to help prevent suicide among youths as well as helping underprivileged youth.

A year later, the boys' mother died of cancer and Franklin, who had remarried, suffered a heart attack.

Recognizing the losses had affected Jamon Franklin, Les Franklin offered to get his son help, but he refused, pledging not to kill himself as Shaka did.

Jamon Franklin pressed ahead, graduating this summer from Morehouse College in Atlanta. He took charge of Shaka Inner City Edge, a program of the Shaka foundation which teaches inner-city children how to skate and play hockey.

Friends and relatives believed Jamon Franklin was in control. "He was the type who was quiet," said Earleen Reed, Les Franklin's cousin. "That's what's so puzzling. He had such a good rapport with the children."

Terry Patton, one of his closest friends, said it was Jamon Franklin who made sure everybody was OK.

"He never gave me any indication that he needed to talk to anyone about anything like this," Patton said. "I'm wondering, did the guy have a secret life that none of us knew about?"

Franklin and his wife, Marianne, knew the younger Franklin struggled.

In the months before he died, Jamon Franklin had threatened suicide, brandishing a butcher knife and screaming because his father had scolded him about dirty laundry in his room.

"I was scared to death," Les Franklin said. "I was so afraid he would do what his brother did that I would give in really easy to him."

On Aug. 14, the Franklins returned from an overseas wedding and Marianne Franklin, 50, found Jamon Franklin's body. No note was found.

Les Franklin is bitter.

"I'm not at the point where I want to remember any good things about him," Franklin said, clenching his jaw. "He promised me he wouldn't do what Shaka did. He didn't keep his word."


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