By Simon Gonzalez
Hunter Cooper was staying at his family’s home with his dad, Jim Cooper, on March 23. He was sick with the flu and a high fever, and was taking a flu medication.
Everything seemed fine when Jim Cooper left to close on a home purchase.
“I told Hunter I’m going to be gone for two hours, do you need anything? He told me he was going to class, and would be back in the afternoon,” Jim Cooper said. “I hugged him and told Hunter I love you and I’m proud of you. I’m so glad I did that.”
A few hours later, two officers from the Wrightsville Beach police were in Cooper’s living room. Hunter, 21, had left the home off Airlie Road, driven across the bridge to a parking lot at the beach, and taken his life.
“This is tough. It’s still really fresh,” Jim Cooper said. “To lose a child is really hard. He was a really good son.”
The suicide shocked his family — his father and three older brothers — and his friends. Hunter was finishing up his second year at Cape Fear Community College and planned to transfer to North Carolina State next year.
“He was making great grades at school,” Jim Cooper said. “He had a plan. I had no inkling that anything like this might be incubating in his mind. We’re trying to put the pieces together and figure out what happened.”
This is the second time the family has been touched by suicide. Cooper’s wife, Kim, took her life nine years ago in September, when Hunter was 12.
Jim Cooper got involved with a group called Touched By Suicide after Kim’s death. The group meets monthly at the First Baptist Church Activities Center on Independence Boulevard.
“Dealing with his mom and counseling people over the years, I felt like this would never happen to our family again,” Cooper said. “I felt like I had dealt with any issues they might have had going forward so this would never happen again to our family.”
According to statistics on the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention website, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. More than 44,000 people die by suicide each year. For every suicide there are 25 attempts. On average, there are 121 suicides per day.
His mother’s suicide wasn’t the only difficulty in Hunter’s life.
“Hunter has overcome a lot,” Cooper said. “He was born prematurely, hours after a car accident. At 7 years old he had a brain tumor. Then when he was 12 he lost his mom. He really had to overcome a lot.”
Cooper said there is no way of knowing what triggered Hunter’s suicide. The pain is still raw. It’s not easy to discuss it. But Cooper said the family’s hope is by talking about it, they can reduce the stigma of suicide and help others who might be considering it or dealing with the loss of a loved one, to get help.
“My whole purpose in wanting to do this is to get someone to get help if they are struggling with depression or despair or hopelessness,” Cooper said. “The answer is not to end your pain, the answer is to get help. As Michael Mattis from Myrtle Grove Presbyterian Church said at Hunter’s memorial service, ‘It’s OK not to be OK.’ Our prayer is that God would somehow use this tragedy for good. My hope is this can prevent someone else from taking their life or bring healing to someone that’s experienced this kind of loss in their family.”