PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY, Va. -- A family still reeling from the loss of their 13-year-old son to suicide, believed virtual school took a major toll on his mental health, and urged families to seek help if they suspect their child is struggling.
"I mean it happened so fast, so fast. We didn’t really have time to prepare," said Brandi Norton as she recounted the moment she and her husband awoke to an unimaginable loss. "Our whole world just shattered."
Two weeks ago, to the day, Norton lost her stepson, Orion Ritchie, after he took his own life.
"When you think about suicide you think about it happening with adults. You don’t think about it with children, and that’s what makes it harder," said Norton.
Norton said the eighth grader went to JEJ Moore Middle School in Prince George County. She said he was a talented artist and loved everything and everyone -- especially animals.
"Orion was a very, very, very, sweet child," said Norton. "He had chickens for pets, ducks for pets, at his mother's house."
But Norton said Orion was having trouble with virtual school, and she started to see a change in him.
"We started noticing that instead of wanting to do schoolwork, he just wanted to sleep. We’d catch him sleeping in the bathroom, or sneaking off to sleep somewhere in the house," said Norton. "He really didn’t have anything -- an outlet."
Things escalated further when Norton said she found disturbing emails about suicide on Orion's computer.
"That is when we decided to call the hospital to try to get him some help, but because of coronavirus there was not a bed open for him."
That was on a Monday. By Thursday, Norton said it was too late.
A CDC report revealed death by suicide in 10 to 24-year-olds had increased by 57% over a 10-year period.
In Virginia, there were 200 suicides in that same age group, just in 2020, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
"It’s been devastating. Absolutely devastating," said Norton.
A daycare provider herself, Norton believed virtual school was taking a major toll on students. She believed there should be more systems in place to monitor children.
"We just wish we would’ve been more educated," Norton said.
Now, Norton said she wanted to keep other families from the same pain.
"If your child is feeling suicidal, you need to call the police or you need to get them into a hospital immediately, because they can be held until they can get in to get help," Norton said.
The family has started a GoFundMe to help give their son a memorial.
If you or someone you know needs mental health support, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.