FORT MILL — Melissa Steele loves to talk about the life of her son, Keeghan McCormack. She enjoys telling stories about his sense of humor, his pride in his school work and how he made everyone he knew feel important.
She doesn’t want to talk about how Keeghan, a Fort Mill High School graduate, committed suicide four weeks ago. She does it anyway, though, in the hope that his story will prevent another parent from feeling the crushing loss she feels.
“I don’t want to talk about it, but more than anything I don’t want anyone to feel this. I don’t want another parent to go through this,” she said.
When Keeghan killed himself, he took with him the answers to questions Steele is asking herself, mainly what motivated him to do it.
Steele and McCormack’s father, Brendon McCormack, can only guess at what made Keeghan decide that suicide was his only option.
Keeghan started technical school last fall and was doing well, Steele said. He was living in his own apartment and was proving to be very responsible, she added.
He did have some concerns about social anxiety, but a therapist seemed to be helping.
“It surprised me because he had a lot of friends, but he said it was just around new people. We didn’t think it was too serious but I did ask if he was feeling depressed and he said, ‘No,’” Steele said.
In late February, Steele couldn’t get Keeghan on the phone for several days. His parents drove to Keeghan’s apartment to check on him. They suspected he had gone away for a few days with friends and planned to talk to him about being more responsible and returning calls promptly.
They were met at Keeghan’s apartment by police officers who told them that Keeghan had committed suicide.
“They told us he was found, and what he did. It was a shock,” Steele said.
There’s evidence that Keeghan was using marijuana and may have owed someone money, Steele said. She suspects that Keeghan may have been afraid to tell them about the money problems.
“We think he got into trouble with money and was just afraid to tell us, even though we would have understood. We really would have understood,” she said.
Or it’s possible that the marijuana use triggered a depression, she said.
“Something small can trigger depression,” Steel said. “Drugs can trigger something in a perfectly normal kid.”
Keeghan loved to draw. In high school, he liked to ride a long board. His friends talked about what a daredevil he was, even naming a steep hill in Fort Mill’s Baxter Village after him because he was fearless about riding down the slope.
Keeghan took pride in his schoolwork. In high school he made a particularly creative statistics project, designed to look like a snake’s tongue, which received a standing ovation from the class. He was funny, kind of a class clown, Steele said, but report cards always contained remarks from teachers about how respectful and kind he was.
Since going off to school, Keeghan was showing how responsible he could be, Steele said. He paid his bills on time. His rent bill was always paid early because early payment meant getting entered into a drawing for a gift card.
He had a scholarship to attend Charleston’s Trident Technical College and was studying psychology. He had recently begun to think about working with underprivileged students after he graduated.
“He knew it wouldn’t be great pay, but he knew it would mean a lot more to work with kids who didn’t have a great start at life. He cared about people intensely,” Steele said.
There were no signs warning his mother, father or stepfather that depression or suicide was a thought in Keeghan’s mind.
Sometimes, there are no warning signs, Steele said.
That’s where Keeghan’s Kause comes in.
Keeghan’s Kause is a fund that will be used to help raise awareness that troubled young people “don’t always fit a stereotype,” Steele said.
“I want them to know there is another way, that they can get help. It kills me that he thought that was the solution,” Steele said.
Already, Keeghan’s Kause has had an impact. Two teens that Steele knows have gotten help because of Keeghan’s story.
“And we want to take that wider,” she said. “All I want to do is to help others not feel this pain.”
Steele and Brendon McCormack are still working to determine exactly where the funds for Keeghan’s Kause will go. They’re considering several non-profit groups to donate it to and trying to select one that will be the best fit. They’re raising money via T-shirt, bracelet and window sticker sales as well as tickets to an upcoming benefit concert organized by Steele’s friends.
The concert is March 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Community Performance Center in Rock Hill and features Alice Ripley, winner of the 2009 Tony award and the 2009 Helen Hayes award for her portrayal of Diana Goodman in “Next to Normal.”
Ripley has long been one of Steele’s favorite performers.
“I see Keeghan’s Kause as a trumpet call to anyone who feels alone and isolated in their pain or grief. I am lending my support to Keeghan’s Kause on March 30th by playing a set of songs that will encourage hearts to open, so that we can lean on each other and find catharsis, light, and meaning in the melodies,” Ripley said.