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Monday
Apr182011

Oregon Man Commits Suicide Onstage; Witnesses Seek Counseling

Thinkstock Images/Getty Images(BEND, Ore.) -- Mental health professionals are helping those who witnessed a gruesome public suicide in Oregon last week, when 19-year-old Kipp Rusty Walker stabbed himself to death onstage with a six-inch knife.

The keyboard player had just finished singing a song called "Sorry for All the Mess." At first the audience clapped, thinking it was part of the act, then reacted in horror.

"It was an impromptu open mic night and he got on stage with his electric keyboard and performed a song," said Lt. Brian Kindell of the Bend Police Department. "At the conclusions he cut himself with a knife at heart level a number of times."

The public suicide occurred last Tuesday night at Strictly Organic Coffee Company before about 15 patrons, many of them young, according to co-owner Rhonda Ealy. Walker collapsed in a pool of blood and the audience began screaming, some trying to get onstage and help.

In a meeting to decompress with counselors, witnesses were told they might experience sleeplessness or nightmares, irritability or hyper-vigilance in the days ahead, all symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Numerous patrons called the police department after the onstage suicide. Walker was taken by ambulance to St. Charles Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, police said.

Walker, described in some local reports as a "transient," was originally from Anchorage, Alaska, and police said his family flew in after the incident.

Deschutes County health officials and Bend police said they have seen a significant rise in suicides, climbing from about 20 a year to 30 to 40 or more in the past few years.

Bend, once known as Farewell Bend, is a city of about 76,000 in the high desert about 17 miles from the Cascade Mountains that has been hit hard by the economic downturn. Kindell said his department gets five to six calls a day for suicides and attempts.

According to local press reports, Walker had been treated by mental health authorities when he told friends he was thinking of killing himself.

Coffeehouse owner Ealy said that so far about 10 of the audience members had already availed themselves of the counseling services, provided as part of the Central Oregon Critical Incident Stress Management Team.

Mark Taylor, deputy chief of training and safety for the Bend fire department, said they had teamed up with the hospital's mental health behavioral unit to help witnesses and their families to understand what they might expect.

The session was just a "foot in the door for people," and witnesses were given information on where to seek more help, Taylor said.

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