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Community News

E-book details local mother’s struggles

2/16/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Carolyn Conley, of West Akron, shares her family’s story in “A Temporary Moment: The Story of Kevin Conley.”
Photos courtesy of Carolyn Conley
WEST AKRON — Carolyn Conley has become somewhat of an expert on suicide jumpers.

It’s not something the now-retired teacher would have chosen to become familiar with, but in 2006 her son Kevin became one of many who chose to end their life on Akron’s All America Bridge.

That loss prompted Conley and her husband, Robert, to champion the fencing of the bridge to prevent other families from facing what they did.

“Every jumper has a face, a name and a family,” Conley said. “They come from all walks of life.”

The two appeared before Akron City Council and Robert Conley shared their story at a meeting shortly after Kevin died.

“He talked about Kevin’s accomplishments and that he was sixth in the state in wrestling,” Conley said. “We decided, if Kevin has to be the poster boy for fencing the bridge, so be it.”

Now, with the bridge project completed, Carolyn Conley has written a book detailing her experience with her son. “A Temporary Moment: The Story of Kevin Conley” is available through online outlets as an e-book.

The Conleys are Akron natives who have lived in West Akron for about 30 years. They had already adopted a son locally, but a few years later, they wished to add to their family. They adopted Korean-born Kevin in 1987 when he was 2. They picked him up in Detroit.

“We wanted someone who was lively, intelligent and inquisitive,” Carolyn Conley said. “They brought us a file and a photo.”

That photo is among several that grace the cover of the book.

“How could you say no to that picture?” she said. “He was adorable and a ham.”

She admits that it took awhile for their new child to settle in.

“The first year was difficult because of language,” she said. “He wouldn’t let you hug him. But that went away.”

Later, she learned about reactive detachment disorder, which is what some adopted children experience.

“These children are broken from a caretaker like the person he had in Korea and abruptly removed and put into another culture,” she said.

But for the most part, Kevin’s childhood was normal and he seemed to be thriving.

It was when he was in eighth grade that the Conleys first noticed something wasn’t right. Another parent told them that he had brought marijuana to a school dance.

“In 2001, we noticed depression taking over slowly,” she said. “He was a prankster — he laughed, he had a sense of humor. All of a sudden, that disappeared and he didn’t talk much.”

When he started high school, his grades dropped and they realized he was exhibiting other behaviors such as stealing. He changed schools but often would sneak out at night, Carolyn Conley said.

It was apparent Kevin had a drug problem, so his parents entered him into a 45-day residential treatment program.

“It seemed like he was going to be OK,” Carolyn Conley said.

Still, they kept a tight rein on him and also learned to keep their valuables, cash and checks locked away. They also took his cell phone from him.

Kevin went to night school to finish high school and also got a job at a local beauty supply store, where he worked until he had an altercation there. He also started attending a church that offered a Korean service and he began learning to read and write Korean.

But eventually his enthusiasm waned.

“The problem was that he wasn’t raised in that culture,” Carolyn Conley said.

The Conleys returned from a trip in the summer of 2005 to find Kevin in very bad shape, Carolyn Conley said.

“I was afraid of Kevin, really afraid, because he had threatened us more than once,” she said.

They ended up getting a restraining order after one incident but helped him get a room at a house for recovering addicts. Despite the order, they brought him food and checked in on him. His father picked him up early every morning to take him to his job at a bagel bakery.

On the morning of March 30, Kevin wasn’t at the house when his father went to pick him up. A few hours later, his parents learned he had jumped from the bridge the previous night.

In researching the issue, Carolyn Conley learned the bridge had been the last stop for dozens of people who were despondent. In the book, she writes that from 1997 through December 2007, 29 people committed suicide by jumping from the bridge.

Carolyn Conley said after Kevin’s death, she and her husband learned about subsequent deaths from a friend at the Akron Police Department, and they made it a point to attend the following week’s Akron City Council meeting, where they sat in silence dressed in black.

“We became the presence of death,” Conley said. “The second time, they were not even aware someone had jumped. They got the message.”

She also credits Mayor Don Plusquellic for hearing their story and supporting their cause.

“Plusquellic broke the ice,” Conley said. “He supported us 100 percent.”

Carolyn Conley decided to pen her story as a way to help others. She wrote some in 2010, then put it down for a year. This past fall, after she retired from teaching with Akron Public Schools and with the bridge project nearing completion, she set her mind to finishing the work.

“It was really hard,” she said. “But I thought, if I’m ever going to do this, I’ve got to do this now.”

She hopes the book will help others understand why she and her husband worked hard to see the bridge improved and also provide comfort for others who have struggled with a troubled child.

“I want people to know they are not alone if their children or a loved one is a drug abuser or addict of some kind,” she said. “We thought we were alone. We were ashamed and embarrassed, but you should not feel that. What you need to do is reach out for help.”

Conley’s book is available at www.barnesandnoble.com and www.amazon.com.

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