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Teen's suicide is a loss that can't be undone

His family wants others to learn from the loss of their teenage son.

By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published August 30, 2007

Michael Amyx (center) with fellow actors Lauren Clark (left) and Katie Dehetre in a 2005 production of "Barnum" at the Francis Wilson Playhouse in Clearwater. Amyx seemed to have it all. He was 18 and a popular actor in the Pinellas community theater scene. His friends are left to piece together what happened and remember a kid they describe as smart, good looking and more talented than he knew.

LARGO -- Michael Amyx loved to make people smile.

Once, he held a coffee creamer to his eye, popped it, and cream sprayed everywhere. "Ow, my eye!" It cured his stepsister's bad mood.

He did impressions -- Marlon Brando, Jim Carrey, Bill Clinton, and a spot-on Julie Andrews. He could learn a new character in one day.

He sang in smooth tenor. Big eyes framed in ridiculous lashes, he'd look at his mother, Kathy Amyx, and croon, "You are so beautiful, to meeee."

He laughed in a high-pitched squeal. His eyes would shoot straight up, his torso would tense -- then, a guttural laugh.

He wanted everyone to like him. Everyone did.

Michael, 18, hung out with friends Friday night, his family said. He visited the movie theater where he worked. He paid the bill on his motor scooter.

At some point, he went to Seminole City Park, where his high school chorus used to sing.

No one can be sure what went through his head. Speculation doesn't mean much now.

The next morning, a maintenance worker in the park found Michael's body hanging.

* * *

Why wasn't he as happy as he made everyone else? There are no simple answers, no one thing to blame, his family said.

He was a joker since preschool. His teachers would triple-knot his shoes, but Michael would work the laces free, fling his shoes out the window and laugh with glee.

"I knew right away I was going to get called into the school a lot," said his mother.

He was mischievous, but he was never a bad kid -- didn't smoke or drink, his mom said. If he put a virus on his stepsister's computer, he'd feel bad and take it off right away.

While he was in grade school, his parents separated. His dad and stepmother moved to Michigan, and Michael stayed in Largo with his mom.

The split was hard on Michael.

"Michael always wanted to be in two places at once," said his stepsister, Tia Bolt, 18.

But here, he seemed to blossom. He joined the Seminole High School chorus and tried out for community theater shows, getting cast in Sugar, La Cage Aux Folles and Hello, Dolly. He even won an award for his portrayal of Billy Bibbit in Island Community Theatre's production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Right before he died, he was cast in a Clearwater production of Bells Are Ringing.

He was a natural on stage. He oozed talent and channeled the nuances of his life into every character he played. He got better with every role.

College plans weren't squared away yet, but he wanted to act on Broadway and teach English.

He had dreams.

* * *

Michael struggled with depression, but he was getting counseling, his mother said. His family said his troubled mood and outlook on life seemed to have improved over the past nine months.

"I really think he was a depressed teenager that made a stupid choice," Kathy Amyx said.

He was sensitive, more than most.

On a chorus trip to New York, he visited the scene of John Lennon's death. He plucked a flower from the memorial and handed it to a girl. He was upset when she didn't understand the significance, his family said.

He wanted to get married and have a family. The travails of teenage love weighed on him like 100 heartbreaks.

"His troubles were like every other teenage trouble, but in Michael's mind, they were magnified," Kathy Amyx said.

Instead of revealing his sadness, he turned the focus on others. He helped his best friend, Jacob Berardi, through his parents' divorce. For another friend's birthday, he got on all fours and pretended he was a pony she could ride.

He could tell what was bothering you, even if you couldn't.

"Michael carried everybody else's hurt and he carried his own hurt," said Kathy Amyx. "And he just couldn't carry it anymore."

* * *

Michael's family doesn't believe he planned that night in the park. They think he acted on an impulse.

He was a writer, a poet and an artist. A drama kid. If he had plotted his death, he would have let everyone know in grand fashion.

But he didn't even leave a note.

He made a mistake.

"It's not a mistake that you can correct," said his stepmother, Tabbi Amyx.

They are desperate to reach others, just like Michael did.

If you're considering ending your life, stop, his mother wants to say. Give yourself 10 minutes. Talk to someone.

If Michael would have tried to talk about his troubles, there were handfuls of people at the ready. If he had only taken a few minutes to think about the result. To realize things weren't that bad.

If only.

* * *

The memories get them through.

Like the time Michael and Jacob hid in a movie theater broom closet. They tumbled out, brooms and all, and sneaked into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, laughing 30 minutes into the movie.

Or the time his mother pressed her nose to his, and said, "Good morning, sunshine." He bolted awake so fast that they knocked heads.

Or the time his father bought him a kite from the dollar store. They flew it together on Michael's birthday. "This is the best gift ever, Dad," he said.

The stories make them smile.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 539-7187.


FAST FACTS: Memorial service
A memorial service for Michael Amyx is at 6 p.m. today at Anona United Methodist Church, 13233 Indian Rocks Road. Memorial donations may be made to 211 Tampa Bay Cares or Suncoast Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program. National Cremation Society, Clearwater.

FAST FACTS: Coping tips
Tips from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on helping people cope with depression and suicidal thoughts:

  • Listen to them with sincere concern for their feelings. Do not offer advice, but let them know that they are not alone.
  • Share your feelings with them. If you feel that they may make a reckless decision, tell them that you are concerned. They need to know that they are important to you and that you care.
  • Inquire if they have had suicidal thoughts or if they have made a suicide plan in a straightforward and caring manner. If you feel you cannot ask the question, find someone who can.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National SuicidePrevention Lifeline, a free and confidential service open all day, every day, 1-800-273-8255.


[Last modified August 30, 2007, 01:38:28]

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