Shayla’s story: Family hopes to raise awareness after daughter’s suicide

Shayla Rodriguez (KSN Photo)

HAYSVILLE, Kan. (KSNW) – Mental health is a topic rarely brought up, but doctors call it a serious problem that can lead to suicide.

For one Haysville family, they are still coping with the loss of their daughter.

Shayla Rodriguez was focused, driven, and intelligent.

“She was the perfect child,” said Stacy Rodriguez, Shayla’s mother. “She was always making other people’s lives better.”

Rudy and Stacy Rodriguez talk about their daughter Shayla who committed suicide. (KSN Photo)

Stacy and her husband Rudy said they knew Shayla would make it far in life.

Shayla was at the top of her class and planned to enter the Marines to help pay for college. She tested so high that the Marines offered her a job in intelligence.

Shayla’s future was planned out, but toward the end of her senior year, the family noticed a change.

“She stopped doing her makeup. She stopped worrying about her hair,” recalled Stacy. “She stopped worrying about what she was wearing. Her clothes..she would just wear baggy sweats.”

The family believed it was just the typical teenage behavior. In February 2016, Shayla asked her father to go out for breakfast.

“Looking back now, I think she wanted me to do something as far as me getting her the help she needed, maybe through an outside person or psychologist,” – Rudy Rodriguez

“She said ‘I need your help,’ and I was like ‘What do you mean you need my help? What’s going on?’ She says ‘I don’t know. I need your help,’” Rudy said.

He was dumbfounded by the conversation and thought Shayla was under a lot of pressure.

“Looking back now, I think she wanted me to do something as far as me getting her the help she needed, maybe through an outside person or psychologist,” said Rudy. “But I did not get it.”

From then on, Shayla become more troubled. According to Shayla’s parents, she ran away to New York and drove the whole way without sleeping.

“That’s when I knew mania was involved because my dad was a manic. My uncle was bipolar,” said Stacy.

An off-duty officer found her and notified the parents, who flew to New York to pick Shayla up.

Shayla’s older brother Ariel told the parents she needed to get checked out by doctors. The family admitted her to Via Christi Behavioral Health as an inpatient. She was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder and was enrolled into therapy.

Shayla’s family shows off some of her artwork. They tell KSN that she was accepted into the Savannah College of Arts and Design. (KSN Photo)

Stacy said the Marines were still going to accept her, but Shayla told her parents that she wanted to be an artist. Shayla was accepted into Savannah College of Arts and Design, but had to wait a year. She was enrolled into Wichita State University and started a new job.

The family thought Shayla was on the mend. Two days before Thanksgiving, Shayla came home at three in the morning, not acting herself.

Stacy recalled that night: “Her pupils are dialated, and I said ‘Are you on something?’ She said ‘No mom, I’m not on anything. I had a bad night.’”

The family later learned Shayla attempted suicide that night. In the coming days, things seemed to be fine.

Shayla was spending time with her family, and she even went to get her nails and hair done. Stacy said she was more affectionate.

“I was in the kitchen getting ready to go to bed and she came up behind me and she hugged me and she said ‘You’re a good mom,’’ Stacy shared. “I said ‘Shayla?,’ and she said ‘Mom, I’m fine.'”

The next day, Rudy and Stacy realized the gun was gone. They ended up driving around looking for Shayla and reported her as missing to the police. As it got later, they still couldn’t find her.

“We called of course the cell phone she has, left voicemail messages, no answer,” said Rudy.

They tried to go to bed, until they believed they heard someone at the door. Rudy jumped out of bed yelling Shayla’s name. Stacy told him their daughter still wasn’t home.

The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office found Shayla with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a pickup southwest of Wichita. (KSN Photo)

“He goes ‘Stacy, I heard her come in,” said Stacy.

A few seconds later, Stacy said she heard ‘mom’ in her ear.

“That’s when we believe she it,” Stacy said.

The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office found Shayla in a pickup southwest of Wichita. She died from a self-inflicted wound.

“She’s gone. She did it, and we had no idea,” Stacy said, with tears in her eyes.

Looking back, the family says the signs were all there. Rudy said he found notes that Shayla had written to herself, and Shayla’s art became darker.

“The things just start clicking in your head, and you’re just like I wish I would have known. I wish I would have put all these together,” said Rudy. “I wish I could have done more.”

Doctors at Via Christi Health said it’s hard for parents to see the warning signs of suicide, and it’s not uncommon for parents to brush it off as typical teen behavior.

Warning signs to look out for:

  • A loss of interest in things they previously enjoyed
  • Voicing thoughts of feeling lost and hopeless
  • Change in personality, behavior, sleep or eating habits
  • Any comment contemplating suicide should be taken seriously

“As a parent, your key has got to be when you start questioning that ‘Is this normal teenage behavior or is this something more?” said Robyn Chadwick, with Via Christi Behavioral Health.

Psychiatrists said children and teens reach out in subtle or creative ways. For Shayla, it was through her art.

“I think parents should lean in with the question and ask ‘So what does this mean? Tell me what’s going on for you.’ or ‘What kind of inspired this piece?'” said Larry Mitnaul, with Via Christi Health.

As the Rodriguez family continues to cope through the loss, they now realize the importance of asking the question: Are you thinking about suicide?

“Someone isn’t going to get mad,” said older brother Ariel. “They’re going to say ‘Wow. You do hear me. You do feel me. You care for me by asking me that hard question.’”

The family learned that Shayla had told some friends about her suicidal thoughts. They urge others not to be afraid to reach out for help.

“At least you will have a live friend instead of a dead friend,” said Stacy.

The Rodriguez family said there are things they wish they would have done differently, but they want people to know the signs and know there are resources available in our community that could help save another precious life.

The National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text to 741741 to reach a trained volunteer.

RELATED LINK | National Suicide Prevention Lifeline