Bristol, Connecticut, U.S.A. — Toby, a loving little beagle, is still howling for his owner to return home.
But 18-year-old Scott Hanelt, who hung himself in a park just before Labor Day, is never coming back.
“Toby’s really lost,” said Scott’s mother, Cathy Hanelt.
When Scott chose to kill himself Aug. 27, he deserted much more than just a confused dog. His family, and scores of friends, are also grieving.
“If Scott realized how much pain he left behind, he wouldn’t have done it,” his mother said.
His girlfriend, 17-year-old Marcia Greene, said she can’t believe Scott is gone. “It’s hard to face the truth,” she said.
Scott, who dropped out of Bristol Eastern High School two years ago, always brought smiles to those around him.
Back in first grade at Ivy Drive School, Scott would rub his shirt against his head to make his hair stand straight up while the teacher’s back was turned. He made the whole class laugh, his mother said.
Scott was “always joking, doing magic tricks, fishing, hanging out with friends and his girlfriend,” she said. He liked Charlie Chaplin, Pink Floyd and driving around in his navy blue 1989 Dodge Shadow.
Greene, who started dating Scott a year ago, said there are “so many things we did together we can’t do anymore. We hung out with our friends. He did magic tricks for me, played with his nephew. He always brought me to work. We tried bowling and we had fun trying that.”
“He didn’t want to be too serious about too many things,” said his father, Stanley Hanelt.
His parents described Scott as “a typical teenager” who struggled academically but didn’t seem to have any serious problems.
“We thought it was normal teenage stuff,” said his mother.
Stanley Hanelt said his son wasn’t an Eagle Scout and just wanted to enjoy himself “because he figured he had the rest of his life to go to school or punch a clock.”
A friend, Robin Guilmette, said Scott was a good guy. She recalled that Scott once spent half an hour at a St. Paul’s carnival trying to win her a stuffed Husky dog she liked. She still has it.
Scott worked off and on, sometimes in temporary positions, but his parents still covered his $3,000-a-year car insurance bill and he continued to live in their Shagbark Drive home.
Stanley Hanelt said they tried to give Scott some freedom and let him make his own choices.
“He was 18. He was still a kid yet. Still had his whole life ahead of him,” Scott’s father said.
His parents pushed Scott to get a job — “we … were kind of impatient,” his mother said — but their son didn’t appear to be in any hurry.
Greene said the day before Scott hung himself they had “a little fight” but “it wasn’t like anything big that we were arguing about.” They made up that night, she said.
Before his parents left for work on Scott’s last day, they hassled him a little about finding work and cleaning his room.
“Let us know where you’re going looking for a job and we’ll be happy,” Cathy Hanelt said she told her son. His father made a similar comment.
“Yeah, I know dad,” Scott responded.
Scott told his parents “he was going to go out and get a pack of cigarettes,” Cahty Hanelt said.
Sometime after his parents left for the day, Scott cleaned his room and picked up his dirty clothes and put them in a hamper. Sometime later he went to an isolated spot in Kern Park, next door to his old elementary school, and hung himself from a tree.
Cathy Hanelt said her son’s decision to die was “totally 100% spontaneous. From what we gathered from his friends, there was no note, no indication.”
That afternoon, police detectives and the medical examiner showed up at Scott’s home as his mother babysat two grandchildren. They told her Scott was dead.
“Oh, my God,” Cathy Hanelt said.
“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare,” she said.
Friends came from everywhere when they heard. Old classmates from Ivy Drive showed up to tell his parents how important he was to them. One girl even told Scott’s mother that he helped her get back together with her own mother after she ran away.
Stanley Hanelt said the long lines of Scott’s friends who showed up at the funeral home made him furious with his son. “I was angry because all these people were there,” he said, and Scott didn’t try to talk to any of them about his troubles.
His parents never dreamed Scott would kill himself.
Scott’s parents said he didn’t have any problems that wouldn’t have been resolved if he’d given it a little time.
“It takes a strong man to stay in this world and live it,” Cathy Hanelt said. “That’s just all part of growing up.”
Stanley Hanelt said, “He was just a typical kid trying to find his way and he never gave himself a chance.”
“What he accomplished is he’s gone and he left a lot of pain behind. We’ll never get over this,” Scott’s father said.
He said “the hardest thing” is that he’ll never know why Scott did it.
“We’re left behind with why? I tried to put myself in his place. How did he feel? How could he do it? … Was he scared? Was he angry? Was he depressed? I mean, how could he do that? But that’s rational thinking and he wasn’t doing that,” his father said.
“He didn’t want anybody to stop him. He didn’t want anybody to talk him out of it,” Stanley Hanelt said. “He didn’t want the help. He just wanted it to end.”
Scott’s older brother, Stephen, and some of his friends took axes to the woods and chopped down the tree where Scott hung himself. His mother said she thinks they vented a lot of their anger on that tree.
His friends made a wooden memorial for him — full of hand-written messages and pictures — that’s in his room now along with his guitar, a fishing vest, and light switch saying “God bless our happy home.”
His parents said anyone contemplating suicide should think again. On average during the past 17 years, one teen commits suicide annually in the greater Bristol area.
“Anyone can commit suicide any day of the week. Don’t do it that day. Give yourself a week and then give yourself another week. You just don’t have to do it because things change, your priorities change,” Stanley Hanelt said.
“Just don’t do it,” Scott’s mother said. “It’s not the answer to your problems.”
She invited teens to phone her if they couldn’t see a way out.
“Talk to your parents, your friends, your neighbors, call me,” Cathy Hanelt said. “I’ll talk to you. I’ll tell you just how bad it hurts.”
Hila Yosafi, Amanda Lehmert and Jessica Norton are Reporters for Youth Journalism International.