About 150 Towaoc residents young and old attended a candlelit vigil Wednesday night to mourn and honor the two teenagers who took their lives over the long weekend.
The vigil at the Ute Mountain Community Center opened with comments by tribal leaders, who spoke of the importance of listening to youths and of uniting in the face of the tragedy, rather than placing blame.
“It’s like we’re walking on eggshells waiting for something else to happen,” said Colleen Cuthair Root, who helped organize the event. “And I want to prevent that ... I thought it was very important to have this, for our community to come together and support one another.”
The teens who died were Jeit Redrock Height, 15, and Andrew William Cuch, Jr., 14. Both were from Towaoc and enrolled in Montezuma-Cortez Middle School.
Before lighting candles, the crowd gathered around long tables in the community center, listening to Towaoc community leaders and department heads.
Colleen Cuthair Root emphasized the importance of bringing the topic of suicide to the surface, and Councilman Selwyn Whiteskunk recalled Height as an outgoing teen with a promising future and an attachment to cattle.
“All these young people who are sitting here, I’m glad to see them here,” he said. “I’m proud to see them. It’s about them. This world’s about them.”
He pointed out individuals in the crowd who had lost loves ones.
“We’ve all been impacted in some way in our lives about suicide. ... Let’s not see our children do this to themselves,” Whiteskunk said.
Others highlighted the programs available to the Ute Mountain Ute people now. Timothy Root, director of the Recidivism Reduction Initiative and brother-in-law of Cuthair Root, highlighted upcoming efforts in the realms of family support, suicide prevention and victim support services. He introduced several program directors who all encouraged community members to reach out to them.
About an hour into the vigil, Cuch’s mother, Estelle Bears (Hatch) Buckskin, spoke up from the back of the room, interrupting Councilman Whiteskunk. She said that she had reached out for help but hadn’t received the needed support.
“Where were all these departments I tried to get to for my son?” she said with emotion. She recounted having been redirected from department to department.
Her sister joined in, voicing frustration with the programs.
“You talk about all these programs, I was with her when she wanted help,” she said. “None of them, none of them. ... We shouldn’t be losing babies like this.”
She spoke passionately for several minutes, also thanking the organizers for the vigil at the conclusion of her speech.
After the speakers finished, vigil participants lit candles and circled the nearby park alongside the community center, paper cups attached to the candlesticks and raised to protect flames from the wind.
Attendees lined up for food, and community health workers spoke about additional resources that are available.
Funeral services for the two teens will be held at the Ertel Memorial Chapel in Cortez – 10 a.m. Friday for Height and the 10 a.m. Saturday for Cuch.