Recent Public Suicides Spark Discussion About Prevention

Pua Kaninau
Pua Kaninau

By Beth Hillyer

(KHNL) - A terrible sight in Waikiki Thursday morning as many people witnessed the tragedy of suicide. Honolulu firefighters removed the body of a woman who hung herself from the outside of a building under construction.

This was the third suicide in a public place on O'ahu in the last week.

Last Friday night firefighters and police searched the water in East Oahu after a man jumped from the cliffs at Makapu'u light house. Two days ago in the same area, a young woman also jumped to her death.

The State Health Department says there are some disturbing trends regarding teens and suicide. The percentage of Hawaii teens who make suicide plans and attempt suicide is among the highest in the nation.

One mom who lost her son to suicide is trying to reverse this trend.

In the three years since she lost her son, Pua Kaninau has not only learned to recognize suicide warning signs, she teaches teens and parents what to look for. Nothing will bring her son back, but her goal is to help save others.

Four years ago, Pua Kaninau just thought her son Kani was going through typical teenage rebellious behavior.

Kaninau explains, "He couldn't communicate openly about how he felt."

Now she realizes his actions as a cry for help, "He'd go mom my head and I'd say you got a headache? So think normal stuff, never thought maybe things were going on in his head."

Just days after his 18th birthday her son died by suicide.

And tragically, it's a big problem here.

Kaninau confirms, "The number two cause of death for youth in our state is suicide."

Plus, the percentage of attempted suicides in Hawaii is among the highest in the nation.

She worked on this quilt that puts a face to the issue.

The youngest victim is just 12. A victim of bullying at his Maui school. It's a bigger problem on the outer islands.And while teenage boys are more successful, more girls attempt suicide.

Photos on the quilt lend closure to the families left behind.

Kaninau says parents need to recognize the red flags.

"Go out and get educated on the issue of suicide, what are the warning signs how can we prevent this from happening because what happens it's not about the dying it's about the pain that is so unbearable. Not just in youth but in everybody, they want to stop the pain that is so unbearable."

Pua often talks to parents and students to help them understand help is available. And she is asking for your help in supporting bills before lawmakers that would fund intervention programs.