‘The lowest point’

Shannon Eastman remembers her daughter, the youngest of her children, as a bright, vibrant, talented athlete who was determined and a fighter.

Never did she think her daughter Cortnee would die by suicide at age 15.

“Suicide is the hardest thing,” she said. “It’s not like a car accident that can’t be prevented. Suicide can be prevented.”

It’s been slightly more than a month since Cortnee died, and Shannon Eastman is attempting to reach out to her daughter’s friends, members of her cheerleading team and others to help Columbus teens who might be struggling.

Public speaking isn’t something that comes easily to her, but she’s trying to speak individually and with small groups about Cortnee’s death.

“I’m telling them, first of all, at their age — being a young adult — they are going through many emotions,” she said. “You might feel at the lowest point, but that’s when you need to call someone or go take a walk with someone.”

She has been telling teens, if they ever get into a place where thoughts of suicide enter their mind, to talk to someone, she said.

“There are so many people who love you,” she said. “You need to call someone. You need to know it will get better.”

She still wishes Cortnee would have called someone or turned to some sort of exercise or an activity in the 20 minutes that the family believes her thoughts turned to suicide.

Cortnee would spend hours in the gym perfecting a skill for cheerleading, and her coach described her as a fighter, her mother said.

At times, Cortnee asked to stay at the gym just a little bit longer to practice.

“That’s why it hurts so bad,” her mother said. “She just gave up so easily. She was so mentally strong, and it’s hard to accept she got in a weak moment.”

Her mother said she believes her daughter’s death was over the ending of a relationship.

“She got caught up with a boy. And it was definitely in that moment, the lowest point,” she said. “That’s not who Cortnee is or Cortnee was.”

Cortnee’s friend Abby Hiatt said she couldn’t tell anything was wrong with Cortnee, other than her friend was sad about a breakup.

In the first days of school, many people were talking about Cortnee’s death and wanting to know the why of it, Abby said.

“I don’t think anyone can know the real reason except for the person who did it,” Abby said.

Cortnee’s mother said she feels something snapped in her daughter’s head.

“She was deeply in love,” her mother said. “But it’s a phase of life. Most of the people who date in high school don’t stay together. But at that point in life, they don’t realize that.”

Shannon Eastman did know that Cortnee had mentioned suicide to the boy involved in the breakup. He had told his mother, who called Eastman to let her know about the conversation, she said.

Cortnee’s parents were watching her closely for about a week before her death.

But Cortnee pushed her parents away when they asked how they could help, asking to be left alone, her mother said.

“Most kids are not going to talk to their parents,” she said. “That’s the hardest thing — they don’t want to let people know and they will push you away. Never in a million years did I think she was thinking about this. She hid it very well. Every sign I saw was that of a typical teenager.”

Shannon Eastman hasn’t changed anything in Cortnee’s room since her death, except to take some things to the girl’s funeral.

Now she finds herself wandering through stores that her daughter frequented and momentarily senses a need to buy a particular item for Cortnee.

“I catch myself saying, ‘Cortnee would have loved that,’ or ‘I’ll just ask Cortnee,’” her mother said.

“It’s very hard when it comes to that,” she said. “We were just together so much.”

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.