“When she was up, she was all the way up,” Lori Sachleben says of her daughter Lindsey. “When she was down, she was all the way down. She was never in the middle.” Lindsey died the evening of Feb. 6 by hanging herself from a basketball goal in the family’s yard."
(Submitted photo)
“When she was up, she was all the way up,” Lori Sachleben says of her daughter Lindsey. “When she was down, she was all the way down. She was never in the middle.” Lindsey died the evening of Feb. 6 by hanging herself from a basketball goal in the family’s yard." (Submitted photo)
“My fight was over before I knew there was a fight.”

Her hands folded on the picnic table before her, Dee Wheeler looks away and wipes a tear from her cheek.

Just three months have passed since her oldest son, David Lee, died by suicide in a tree next to the family’s Dupont home.

“I didn’t have a chance to help him,” she said. “There were no signs.”

While she believes he is in heaven, she admits she has moments where she hates him more than anyone she has ever known.

“Our oldest son led us to the gates of hell,” she said. “I do love him. I love him with all my heart. But he hurt himself and he tore apart our family. And he never said a word to any of us. … I have my moments where I stare at his bedroom door and think he’s gonna come out. The hardest thing for me, seriously, is looking into the eyes of my husband, David, and our youngest son Dakota. You can’t take away the pain. There is nothing I can do to fix it, but try to love them through it. They look to you for answers, and there aren’t any. There just aren’t any.”

Talking to The Madison Courier about what her family is experiencing since David Lee’s death, she hopes may help another family.

David Lee was “a phenomenal student,” Dee said, adding that he graduated in 2015 with 63 credits – 23 more than are required at Madison Consolidated High School. He was well-liked – at least 250 people attended his funeral service, which was held at the Dupont Volunteer Fire Station because, in life, he was terrified of funeral homes.

He had a good job at MODRoto and still lived at home, so his only bill was for his car insurance. His car was paid off. He had a girlfriend.

David Lee died June 18, a week after he simultaneously shot himself in the face and hung himself from the tree. Dee said she was told that David Lee would have survived the gunshot, which would have left him legally blind. But because he also hanged himself, his brain went too long without oxygen – even though his brother and mother cut him from a tree and got him breathing again by the time EMTs arrived at the scene.

“He was determined he was going to die,” she said.

Just two weeks before the incident, Dee said they talked about his friend, Ethan Stewart, who graduated a year before David Lee and died by suicide in March 2015.

“He said to me, ‘Mom, I don’t understand how anybody could do that. …”

The only possible warning was when David Lee suffered a panic attack while at work. She took him to the emergency room.

“They asked if he was suicidal and he said no. They gave him medicine (Xanax) for his nerves and sent him home. I never got the prescription filled,” Dee said.

He told her he was fine and that he didn’t really know what was wrong. “Just that he was overwhelmed with everything. I asked him if he wanted me to call somebody or get him in somewhere. But, he’s 20. Legally my hands are tied. Once they hit 18, when you take them to the doctor you are no longer allowed to speak for them.”

And if they don’t ask for help, or indicate that they have suicidal thoughts, “you can’t do anything.”

“The night we lost him, he’d been out with his girlfriend, came home about 9:30 or 10. We sat and visited, like you do when your kids come home. He seemed fine. … He seemed fine.”

He ate some of the crab salad Dee had left for him in the refrigerator – one of his favorite meals – and spent a couple hours playing video games with Dakota. Later he went to take a shower, but before that he had given both his parents and his brother a hug and told them he loved them.

About 1:45 a.m., Dee got out of bed for a trip to the bathroom. Dakota was still playing video games and met up with her in the dining room.

“I said, ‘You’re up pretty late,’ and then all of a sudden, we heard it. A shot. I looked at Dakota and said, ‘Where’s David?’ Because he wasn’t there; he wasn’t standing there and his bedroom door was open. So I ran out the front door. My baby was hanging in the tree. I screamed, ‘Call 9-1-1 and get me knife.’ I cut my baby down out of the tree; I got his heart beating again and got him breathing.”

Stopping for a moment, she took a breath – the agony of the moment etched on her face and palpable in her voice. She continued.

“Dakota saw it. He was very brave. He called 9-1-1 ... and grabbed a knife,” she said.

“I pray to God that the next mama can run fast enough. I feel like a horrible mother, like I let him down.”

Lindsey Sachleben, who graduated with David Lee in 2015, battled bi-polar disorder – a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

“When she was up, she was all the way up,” said her mother, Lori. “When she was down, she was all the way down. She was never in the middle.”

Lindsey died the evening of Feb. 6 by hanging herself from a basketball goal in the family’s yard.

For Lori, the specter of suicide had been present with Lindsey.

There were signs. For months after her friend Ethan Stewart died, she visited his grave at least twice a week, Lori said. As far as Lori knows, Lindsey had continued visiting the grave, but less frequently. Friends said she went there every day.

“She struggled with that,” Lori said. “My mom said, ‘I don’t think it’s healthy for her to do that,’ but I’m like, ‘Well, what do you do? ... I kind of knew, and I kind of knew what I needed to do. ... But Lindsey would never go to counseling. I tried and I tried and I tried. You can’t make somebody do it.”

Lindsey was enrolled at Vincennes University in fall 2015, but returned home after Labor Day, telling her mom that there were too many drugs on campus and she was concerned about getting in trouble.

“I was OK with that, because some kids aren’t meant to be away and going to school,” Lori said. “But I thought college would keep her busy; she scored really high on her SATs. She could have gone to any school she wanted to and played soccer,” at which she excelled.

Suddenly being at home with little to do, “it was a big shock for her,” Lori said. Lindsey had decided to be a vet tech and had gotten a job locally and was learning to groom dogs. She was fired, however, when she mishandled some money. She was charged with theft.

“That really bothered her, but we were working through that. She was just going to be on probation for a while.”

With this on her record, however, she had trouble getting another job. When she was close to getting one, there was a glitch in the application process that meant she would have to wait to have the required drug screen. “She didn’t know how to cope when things like that happened.”

Lori said at one point, Lindsey had been put on medications that seemed to be working. She would tell her mom when her prescriptions were going to run out. She coached youth soccer last fall, and she and her boyfriend were renovating a house in Hanover and planning to move in together.

On Sunday, the day before she died, Lori said Lindsey and her boyfriend got into a huge fight. Afterward, Lori said the boyfriend told her Lindsey hadn’t taken her medication for months.

“She had no coping skills. Without being on the medication, any little thing would upset her,” Lori said. The next day came and, along with the drug-screening problem, it was also her boyfriend’s birthday and she wanted him to come to the house to give him gifts she’d made.

At 4:30 p.m., Lindsay talked with her father, Brian, who was getting ready to leave to coach a game. He told Lori that Lindsay seemed fine.

Lindsey and her boyfriend messaged back and forth, and she became upset when he told her he couldn’t come to the house right away because he was helping someone move furniture – and she had known about that commitment, Lori said.

“But I think, in her mind, she thought he broke up with her,” Lori said, adding that she texted the boyfriend that “she was about ready to drop.”

Lori doesn’t know what that meant, at the exact moment Lindsey typed it, but she doesn’t believe her daughter really wanted to die. “She had three layers of clothes on. It was cold, but who’s going to worry about that?”

Lori believes that Lindsey thought someone would come home before it was too late. “She knew what time we were going to be home, and she did it within that 30-minute time frame. I really think she thought we would be there. ... She was mad, and that’s what bi-polar people do,” Lori said. “They get mad, and she didn’t think about what she was doing.”

But both women acknowledge that their children seemed to have trouble with that transition from being in school – with lots of activities and seeing their friends every day – to being an adult, and not really knowing what they want life to be.

“That age group doesn’t feel like they fit in,” Dee said.

And both women feel there should be more available to young people who suffer depression or other mental disorders, and their families.

“We need more awareness,” Lori said. “People need to have more compassion” for those struggling with depression, grief or other issues, and for the families and friends left behind after suicide. “Nobody really understands this.”

“I don’t ever want anyone to feel this pain,” Dee said, noting that there have been several members of David Lee’s graduating class who have died by suicide. “We’re burying children from that graduating class at an alarming rate. ... And that is where we need to start, to try to gravitate toward them. We need to reach them all.”