tampabay.com

Teen's death a shock to many

Josh Uhlarik, a football standout at Armwood High School, died Saturday in what his family is saying was a suicide.

By KEVIN GRAHAM and SHERRI DAY
Published January 23, 2006


BRANDON - Letters from the nation's top college football programs had already started showing up in 16-year-old Josh Uhlarik's mailbox.

Duke. Indiana. Michigan. Louisiana State.

They all wanted a shot at recruiting the junior, an offensive lineman on Armwood High's football team.

"Every day, he would talk about how much he was looking forward to going to college," said David Uhlarik, Josh's father.

But Uhlarik won't see his son sign his first deal.

Josh died Saturday by what his family has said was suicide. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office said he died from a gunshot wound to the head.

The teenager's death comes less than a month after that of James Dungy, the 18-year-old son of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy. James Dungy hanged himself Dec. 22 in his Lutz apartment.

"Anybody that knew (Josh) would be absolutely shocked by this," Uhlarik said Sunday.

His eyes swollen and red, Uhlarik sat with a football game on the TV in the background. A photograph of Josh in his Armwood football uniform lay on the coffee table, within arms' reach.

"We were not only father and son, but also very good friends," said Uhlarik, a sergeant with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "I'm going to miss talking to him."

Josh spent the weekend at his mother's home, Uhlarik said. His parents were divorced and with his dad's hectic work schedule, Josh split his time staying with both of them.

His mother could not be reached Sunday for comment.

Uhlarik declined to discuss details of how his son ended his life. Sheriff's spokeswoman Detective Lisa Haber would not confirm any details about the suicide.

However, deputies did respond just after 4 p.m. Saturday to investigate the death of a 16-year-old white male in the Seffner area.

Those who knew Josh well describe him as a normal teen who enjoyed playing video games, particularly the popular football game Madden NFL. A left tackle on Armwood's varsity football team, Josh was also a standout football player, his teammates and coaches said.

"Nobody saw it coming," said Sean Callahan, head football coach at Armwood High. "We saw a happy kid, right up to the day of it."

Team captain Bert McBride said word of Josh's death spread quickly Saturday among Armwood students and football players.

"It came as a shock to absolutely everyone because when you think about him, he was just not that kind of guy," said McBride, 18. "He was really light-hearted."

McBride remembered Josh as a fun-loving teammate who enjoyed hanging around with football players during the season. During games, Josh often told jokes on the sidelines. Once, he took part in a mud-slinging fight with the other players.

Uhlarik laughed when he thought about some of the pranks his son would pull on his teammates and even the coaches.

"He had a good sense of humor," Uhlarik said.

All Josh thought about, his teammates said, was football. He had dreams of playing at a Division I college. At nearly 6 feet 7, Josh caught the eye of several college recruiters.

Josh's teammates found his death particularly shocking given his prospects for a stellar college career.

Kyle Paulhus, a senior who played on Armwood's offensive line with Josh, said no one could imagine Josh taking his life.

"He's got his whole career ahead of him, his whole life," Paulhus said in disbelief. "Any college would like to have him. Next year, he would have been one of the best players in Hillsborough County, I believe. He liked football a lot. He was always ready to get in there and play."

Callahan said Josh had come a long way since he joined Armood's football team as a freshman. He'd seen Josh grow a lot, literally. He'd grown more than a foot in height since the two met.

"We talked about everything," Callahan said. "From football to girlfriends, to any type of problem he was having in school or on the team. He was really shaping up into a fine young man."

Josh was the only returning offensive lineman for the Armwood Hawks, which took Class 4A championships in 2003 and '04 and had a runner-up finish last month.

"He was going to be the glue in that offensive line," Callahan said.

The coach said he plans to meet with the Armwood team as a whole today to talk about Josh's death and suicide.

School spokesman Steve Hegarty said counselors will also be at Armwood today for students who want to talk.

"He was fairly well known at school and popular," Hegarty said. "We're expecting that they'll have a busy day."

Statistics show that suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between 15 and 24 in Florida. It's the second leading cause of death among those between ages 25 and 34 in this state.

Next week, the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay will hold a free, suicide prevention workshop. The two-hour session, on Jan. 31, will train participants how to look for the warning signs of suicide.

Still, Callahan said it will be hard to ever make sense about what happened with Josh.

"We're just going to have to live with the fact that we have a lot of questions, and we're not going to get the answers," Callahan said. "We're just going to have to learn to deal with it."

--Times staff writer Ernest Hooper contributed to this story. Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com

PREVENTING SUICIDE

WARNING SIGNS

--Dramatic behavior changes

--Withdrawal from friends, social activities, work, etc.

--Making a will, or giving away possessions

--Talk of suicide or prior suicide attempts

--History of mental illness

--Taking unnecessary risks, such as abusing drugs or driving drunk

--Preoccupied with death and dying

--Loss of interest in appearance

--Recent loss of loved one, job, etc.

HOW TO HELP

--If someone you know talks about suicide, take them seriously.

--If you're afraid someone is suicidal, ask. It will show your concern, not encourage them to act.

--Listen without judging.

--Get help from a professional counselor, doctor or adult you trust.

--Even if a friend asks you to, don't keep it a secret.

--If the person is in immediate danger, don't leave them alone. Call 911 or a crisis center.

--Restrict access to guns, medicines and other lethal instruments.