After daughter's suicide, Coppell father fights to spare others the same pain

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by JAMES RAGLAND

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 4:13 PM

The upstairs room where his daughter once slept - where she often did her school work, where her adolescent friends commiserated with one another, and where she sometimes would sneak out of her two-story home - looks much like it did five years ago.Rick Selah kept it that way for a reason: He misses his daughter, Kebra, who took her own life in July 2004.

MICHAEL MULVEY/DMN
Rick Selah has kept his daughter Kebra's room virtually untouched since the Coppell High student (below) took her life in July 2004. 'If you'd come to me five years ago and said something like this could happen, that my daughter would do this, I wouldn't have believed it,' he said.

It's a clear indication that Selah is still working through his grief.

"It's hard to let go," said Selah, 48. "I'm getting to the point where, in my heart, I know it's time to change it. But it's hard. It's really hard."

This is the tangled tale of a twice-divorced dad still coming to grips with his daughter's tragic death, striving to keep memories of her alive, and hoping to keep other parents from ever sharing his immense pain.

"If what I'm doing can save one kid's life, just one, then it's all worth it," Selah said. "But it's not easy for anyone to talk about suicide."

And yet, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in America - the third leading cause among 15- to 24-year-olds.

Kebra's death came at a time when teen suicides, which had dropped 28 percent between 1990 and 2003, took a turn for the worse.

Between 2003 and 2004, the suicide rate for 10- to 24-year-olds spiked 8 percent, the largest one-year jump in 15 years, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"If you'd come to me five years ago and said something like this could happen, that my daughter would do this, I wouldn't have believed it," Selah said.

His daughter was a bubbly soccer player and cross-country runner heading into her sophomore year at Coppell High School."She was happy and running around at times, and on other days she was moody," Selah said. "It wasn't any different than what most teenagers go through."

On the night she overdosed, she'd gotten in trouble at home for drinking with some friends in a hot tub in the back yard.

After arguing with her stepmom, Kebra went up to her room and took multiple prescription pills, Selah said.

"She took the pills, went downstairs to talk to" her stepmother, "and they argued a little more," he said. "She went back upstairs, and a few minutes later she went into convulsions."

"I held her in my arms until the ambulance came - until she died," Selah said. "I distinctly remember her taking her last breath."

Talk about feeling helpless.

Paramedics were unable to revive her, and she was officially pronounced dead about two hours later at a hospital.

Selah said authorities ruled it an accidental overdose, saying the mixture of pills and alcohol killed her. But he said Kebra had written a suicide note, which he still keeps in a safety-deposit box. "There's no such thing as an accidental suicide," he said.

Since her death, he and other family members, including his two sons, one 17 and one 23, have asked a lot of "what ifs," wondering what they could have done differently.

Already divorced from Kebra's mom, Selah ended up divorcing her stepmother, too. But he said the death of his child, which so often splits apart even the best of marriages, didn't undo his.

"Our life wasn't perfect," he said, later adding, "I don't live in the past."

What he's tried to do is turn his daughter's death into an instructive message for other teens and their parents.

He started the KebbSmiles Foundation - www.kebbsmiles.com. He wrote a three-act play, Reconsidering Life, that has been performed in two area high schools.

He even manned a suicide hotline for a while, but said he wasn't equipped to handle the range of calls.

"He's still in the process" of recovery, said Missy Walls, who works with the Contact Crisis Line in Dallas and has tapped Selah to help educate teens and adults about substance abuse, depression and suicide. "I just think he has an incredible story to tell."

Selah put it this way: "I don't want to forget her. I think you obviously think you know why they did what they did, but you never know for sure. And each time I talk to other kids her age about it, I think it brings me deeper insight."

But each time he goes into Kebra's room, it's like he's still looking for more clues, something to put his aching heart and mind at ease.

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