National Suicide Prevention Week: Fallen Phillipsburg officer remembered

A Phillipsburg police officer who died last year will be remembered in a ceremony at the end of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

A tree will be dedicated at Shappell Park honoring the service of Detective Tim Balas, who took his own life last year inside his Lopatcong Township home. He was 41.

While many students stopped to observe the display, for Erin Bagley, seeing 1,000 little red flags covering the Tate Student Center lawn Sept. 12 was much more than a saddening sight.

A public invitation on the Phillipsburg police Facebook page says the dedication will be 5 to 6 p.m. Sept. 30.

On the night of Feb. 24, 2015, police were called to Balas’ home by a concerned neighbor to check on the officer’s welfare. When they eventually entered, Balas was found dead from a gunshot wound, stunning local authorities.

In a video posted on Facebook, the junior psychology and communications double major from Columbus said she cried when she saw the display because it was a reminder of one of her own family members.

“I was crying because I was remembering Jay, my uncle that died when he was a sophomore in college,” she said in the video.

This past week, from Sept. 5 to 12, was the 42nd annual National Suicide Prevention Week during which the American Association of Suicidology and other organizations bring awareness to the issue of suicide.

To help bring attention to the issue at the University of Georgia, the Active Minds UGA organization set up 1,100 flags outside the Tate Student Center, each marked with words such as “student,” “teacher,” “girlfriend,” “mother,” and “role model,” to represent the number of college students who commit suicide every year.

In her Facebook video, Bagley said the 1,100 flags were an unfortunate reminder of “how real that number is.”

Bagley’s uncle was only three years her senior, and she said the closeness in age made it even harder for her to grasp.

“For the longest time after my uncle’s death I was distraught, and I kind of thought it was selfish. Why did he think that had to be a last straw?” Bagley said. “But coming into college and dealing with that depression and anxiety that I’ve struggled with myself, I realized it’s not as black and white as that. I would hope people understand that.”

As a college campus, the UGA community is no stranger to suicide. It is the third-leading cause of death in Georgia for 15- to 24-year-olds. With suicide being a prevalent tragedy on college campuses, some are working to make having resources for mental health a priority.