Tawnia Owens on suicide prevention and miracles
A funeral and a celebration of life are scheduled this Saturday for Talon G. Owens, the 17-year-old Boise boy whose story about stepping back from suicide helped other teens struggling with depression. He died Thanksgiving Day in a car crash in Elmore County.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 6032 N. Five Mile Road in Boise. The celebration will be from 6 to 10 p.m. at The Basque Center, 601 W. Grove St., Boise.
Both events are open to the public.
A GoFundMe page had raised $12,980 by 6 p.m. Wednesday toward expenses related to Talon’s death.
The story below was published Nov. 24, 2017, under the headline, “Boise teen whose story saved lives loses his own in a Thanksgiving crash.”
Talon Owens was an ordinary teenager in some ways, but extraordinary in one that mattered.
When he died on Thanksgiving in a car crash, Talon, 17, was driving his two younger sisters from their home in Southwest Boise to their aunt’s house in Grandview for dinner with their father and grandmother. Police say he drove his car off the right shoulder of Simco Road west of Mountain Home, overcorrected, rolled and was ejected. His mother said he might have been speeding and wasn’t wearing a seat belt. His sisters wore theirs, and they survived.
Talon was a middling student, a senior at Centennial High School who hated homework and had earned C’s, D’s and F’s in classes that demanded it. He wanted to drop out. He wanted to become a mixed martial arts fighter. So his parents made him a deal: Finish school and graduate next spring, and we’ll help you pay to get trained by a professional in MMA. He agreed.
But what mattered the most about Talon was this: his step back from suicide. He had gone to the eighth floor of a Downtown Boise parking garage one night in 2016 intending to jump. He saw something there that caused him to live another day. He went public with the story of his experience, and that sharing helped others flirting with suicide. By all accounts, he inspired them to give life another chance.
After news of his death spread, “I can’t tell you how many messages I got from his friends saying when they were down, Talon was always there to lift them up,” his mother, Tawnia Owens, said Friday. “He brought them hope.”
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The car Talon crashed was a 1998 Toyota convertible bought with money he earned at a car wash. He worked several part-time jobs in the past few years: carrying groceries to the cars of customers at the Albertsons supermarket at Five Mile and Lake Hazel roads, filling pizza orders at Little Caesars at Five Mile and Ustick.
He spent his sophomore and part of his junior years at Borah High, and then switched to Mountain View High, and then to Centennial for his senior year, after his grandmother bought a seven-bedroom house near Five Mile and McMillan roads. Tawnia Owens moved Talon and his two younger sisters into the house in time for this school year.
The house has a bedroom downstairs with a gym next to it. That’s where Talon lived. He worked out there a couple of hours every day, his parents said.
“Talon and I would flex in the mirror,” said his father, Jason Owens, whose divorce from Tawnia both parents described as amicable, and who was with his ex-wife Friday as they grieved. Jason Owens, a heavy-equipment operator, introduced his son to Muay Thai, a martial art and combat sport that Talon came to love. Sometimes they worked out together.
“He’d say, ‘Wow, Dad, your obliques are really showing,’ ” Jason Owens said, referring to the angular muscles on the sides of the abdomen. Jason Owens thought about his son whenever he exercised alone. “Can’t let him get more buff than Dad,” he said.
In autumn 2015, Tawnia Owens took Talon and her oldest daughter, Jaicey, to a three-month, Boise-based wellness-training program created by a bodybuilder, Rocky Detwiler. Detwiler said Talon embraced the program’s physical demands and other requirements. “He was one of the best success stories we had,” Detwiler recalled. “He had a very supportive mother. She’s an extraordinary woman.”
But that success did not quell Talon’s demons. He told the Statesman last year that he felt indifferent to life, feeling judged and helpless. “I just felt like there was somewhere else I could be where I wasn’t being judged, where I didn’t feel looked down upon,” he said. “That was at the bottom of an eight-story building.”
In April 2016, when he was 15, he went to the garage. He had left five suicide letters for family members on his phone. But as he looked down from the eighth floor, he was stunned to see someone else: a woman outside the third-story rail. She jumped. “I saw her hit the ground at the bottom of the elevator shaft, and I kind of froze,” he said.
Tawnia Owens said she sat in her son’s room that night at Boise’s Intermountain Hospital, which offers inpatient mental health treatment. He followed up with a recovery program.
After that, he showed no signs of suicidal thinking, his parents said. News of his death led many people who knew Talon’s story to have questions, but nothing the authorities have said so far indicates that what happened Thursday was anything other than a wreck. Police say they are still investigating. Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens (no relation to Talon’s family) said he died of blunt-force trauma.
Tawnia Owens said her son was in good mental health — “not suicidal, for sure.”
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After the Statesman told Talon’s story of stepping back from the ledge, he was invited to speak at Story Story Night, a recurring event at Jack’s Urban Meeting Place that features people telling their personal stories. At the outset, Talon asked people in the audience whether they had been touched by suicide.
“In the blue glow of the house lights, a sea of hands rose in the air,” said Jodi Eichelberger, Story Story Night’s artistic director. “It was really powerful. At the end, the audience rushed to their feet. He got one of only one or two standing ovations [we’ve had] in seven years.”
Among those in the audience was Grace Gambrell, the sister of the woman who jumped from the garage. She has since become a close friend of Tawnia Owens.
“Your light shined, literally, around the world, including into my own dark heart filled with questions and sadness,” Gambrell wrote on Facebook after Talon died. “I’m so, so broken.”
Another audience member was Joel Enfinger, who had met Talon and became friends with him before Talon told him his garage story.
Joel, now 16 and a junior at Borah High, spent much of last school year with Talon. Talon helped advise him about girls. They would talk about basketball and football. Some Fridays after school, they went to Borah High to play basketball on open-gym night. Joel’s mother ferried them: “Neither of us had our licenses then,” Joel said. Afterward, Talon stayed the night at Joel’s house. They played games and watched videos. “We’d watch Lilo & Stitch until 2 in the morning,” Joel said.
Joel went through his own depression early last school year. One day Talon asked him what was wrong. “I said ‘Nothing, man.’ He said ‘No, I know something’s wrong.’ I didn’t know about his story, the eight-story building, he hadn’t told me about that yet. He said, ‘If you need anything, you can call me.’
“One night I chose to run away from home. We lived up on Cole and Amity. There is a little bridge over the canal. I sat on the bridge and I just cried. I don’t remember why. I just felt lonely and sad. Right around Thanksgiving.
“I had my phone with me. It happened that he texted or Snapchatted me. He always used to send the dorkiest Snapchats to people. I called him. He said, ‘Hey, dude, what’s going on?’ I was crying. That’s when he told me his story — all the things that had happened to him. He’s the reason I went home that night.”
When he learned of Talon’s death, Joel broke into tears. “He was the kind of kid you could be having the worst day of your life, and if you had a conversation with him for three minutes, he could turn your day around, just like that,” Joel said. “He could make you happy. He was like that all the time. He touched so many people.”
Funeral arrangements are pending. The family has created a GoFundMe page seeking donations to help defray costs.