Suicide prevention forum hits close to home for Danville teen's family

Forum held Wednesday night; Lainey Smith died by suicide April 17

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. – Sitting on a couch at Mt. Hermon Baptist Church Wednesday, 13-old-Lainey Smith's sister, Haley, recalled her sister's death.

"My stepdad comes running around from the backyard to where my mom was, and he looked at me, and I was like, 'Randy, where is she? Is she OK?' The next three words out of his mouth to me were, 'She's gone, sugar,'" Lainey Smith's sister said.

That's how Haley found out April 17 that the 13-year-old was dead.

"I literally fell to the ground right then and started crying," she said.

At the beginning of this school year, Lainey transferred out of the Danville Public School system and started attending Chatham Middle School in Pittsylvania County.

Her mother and sister say it was an effort to get her away from being bullied.

Unfortunately, they say, it didn't stop.

On Wednesday, 10 News reached out to Danville Public Schools multiple times for an interview, but the school district refused to comment.

Pittsylvania County's superintendent did not return a call by 10 News requesting an interview.

"Her skin being too pale, her having braces, which is so common in middle school, so I don't understand how that's even really a thing. They said she was too skinny," Haley Smith said, describing the ways in which she says her sister was bullied.

Lainey's mother, Stacey Smith, even changed her daughter's medication schedule so she didn't have to take it in school after learning that, too, was a source of the bullying.

"Go take your crazy pills, crazy," Stacey Smith said, describing how she says her daughter was bullied. "We found out after that that all the kids that have to have medication, whether it be for asthma or whatever, they got picked on."

Lainey's sister has created a Facebook page called The Lainey Project to encourage people to share their personal struggles.

"We've had people from Appomattox open up to us, we had somebody in Texas, somebody in New York. I had somebody in Ohio," she said.

That's exactly what Steve Chromy, the pastor of Mt. Hermon Baptist Church, the host site for the forum, said Wednesday's forum is designed to do: encourage people to open up in order to begin a conversation about combating suicide.

"Danville and Pittsylvania County have one of the highest suicide rates in our state," Chromy said.

A trend Lainey's death could help reverse.

The forum was ultimately inspired by the suicide of a young man in a youth group Chromy used to work with.

"We had held a forum previously at the church I was at. It worked really well, so I just asked (the principal at Chatham Middle School) if that's something she would be interested in," Chromy explained.

People were asked to email questions to Mt. Hermon Baptist Church ahead of the forum.

"We've had questions as far as 'Does suicide send people to Hell?' to 'How does God allow suicide?'" Chromy said.

People also asked about what to do to help a family member who is expressing suicidal thoughts.

Two professional counselors from North Carolina and a man who used religion to help him deal with the suicide of a friend in high school were scheduled to speak at the forum.

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