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"We have to help" | Local moms call for suicide awareness and prevention

These three moms know what it feels like to lose a child to suicide and they don't want it to happen to anyone else.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Candace Banister, Kristina Thiagarajan and Monica Guoffon all lost a child to suicide. 

"Will Bannister, he died at age 16, April of 2017," Bannister said.

"Sasha was 19 years old. She passed away in February of 2019," Guoffon said. "

"Kai Thiagarajan ... March 29, 2019," Thiagarajan said. 

It is an experience that brought them pain, but also a purpose.

"Never in a million years did I think that would be the last time I saw my child," Guoffon said.

Thiagarajan said it gave them all a new mission.

"For me to talk about it was never a question ... the magnitude ... and impact just lit a fire to make other people understand," she said. 

Together that is exactly what they have done by sharing their own stories and by being a resource to the community around them.

"The three of us have paid a huge price for our loss so when you see it happen to another family you say I have to say something, I have to do something," Bannister said. 

Though each day that purpose is with them, September 10 has a little extra meaning. It is World Suicide Prevention Day. 

"The very fact that we have a national recognition helps break some of that secrecy and stigma," Thiagarajan said. 

Through their advocacy and their healing together they've found lifelong friends.

"The three of us get together and smile together, we love each other and we support each other," Bannister said. 

They're working to find out how to navigate their new normal, but they're also fighting so that it doesn't happen to other people.

"I have to speak up ... I paid too much of a price to be quiet," Bannister said. 

In a world still trying to overcome a pandemic, they still have some advice to offer people. They said it's important for leaders and families to check in on younger people, to call them and try to connect with them.

"We can take care of one another in this society, but we have to be aware of the dangers," Bannister said.

"You can get through this, you've got to reach out that's the most courageous thing you can do," Thiagarajan said.

You can find our full coverage of The Reality of Suicide in East Tennessee here.