“Red Flags for Rescue: A Memorial for Natalie Weber” raises awareness for depression, suicide

Saturday would have been Natalie Weber’s 20th birthday. Instead of celebrating with cake and presents, family, friends and community members gathered Tuesday night in remembrance of her short life and to raise awareness for depression and suicide.

“Red Flags for Rescue: A Memorial for Natalie Weber,” the day-long awareness event, honored the 19-year-old sophomore pre-fashion design major who was found dead in her Centennial C room on April 13. Her death was ruled a suicide by the Portage County Coroner’s office.

“We want to make sure that if you’re depressed, lonely or overwhelmed with stress, that you know there are people [on campus] that can help you,” Kayla Landis, president of Kent State’s To Write Love on Her Arms UChapter, said. “The most important reason we are here, though, is to remember Natalie Weber.”

The event, co-hosted by Kent State’s TWLOHA UChapter and Active Minds, began at noon in Centennial Green. By 5 p.m., 450 flags stood, representing the number of people who would have died from suicide in that time.

Soon after, nearly 80 people filled Bowman Hall, where Weber’s cousin, mother and best friend spoke about her life. From infancy, in big sunglasses and a baseball cap, to her senior photos, Weber’s life played out in photos while they talked.

“This is exactly what Natalie would’ve wanted,” Sheryl Weber, her mother, told the crowd. “Because one day, she hoped to be an advocate for mental health.”

Jayita Datta and John Schell, psychologists from University Health Services, also spoke briefly about the warning signs of depression and suicide and how to handle them.

Eight family members, including Weber’s mother and father, attended to thank everyone for their support and to see the campus, some for the first time. After the event in Bowman Hall, the crowd moved to the rock on Front Campus for a candlelight vigil.

Michelle Cundiff, Weber’s cousin, said on the walk over, many of her friends came up to the family to tell them their memories with Weber.

“These people were as much family to her in the last few months as we were, so to see her through their eyes really brought a lot of comfort,” Cundiff said.

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As the crowd circled the rock, family and friends took turns telling stories and singing songs, including one of Weber’s favorites, “Wonderwall” by Oasis.

Although the main reason for the event was to remember Weber, those who spoke stressed the importance of recognizing mental illness and depression as a serious issue.

“I hope [others] see her situation as a way to help themselves and look toward the future because she could’ve had the most amazing future,” Niki Stover, Weber’s lifelong friend, said of the event.

Cundiff said she hoped Weber’s story helped stop other families from having to go through losing someone to suicide.

“It’s sad how many people come around now that she’s gone,” Stover said. “She would’ve loved knowing she touched so many people’s lives.”

Contact Lindsy Neer at [email protected] and Nicole Aikens at [email protected].