She was only a child… a loving brown-haired, brown-eyed little girl who would have started sixth grade this fall at Nevada Middle School.
But, in the very early morning hours of July 14, something inside this smart and caring, but deeply troubled, little girl gave up on life.
After having spent one of the best evenings ever with her mom and then sitting up with her older brother Zachery while he played video games until after midnight, Allyson Richeson, 10, went to her room and used the strap of one of her purses to take her own life.
“We had a great night and day before,” said her mother, Anissa Beardsley, a soft-spoken woman, who wanted to share the story of her daughter and information surrounding her tragic death to hopefully help others understand the very real struggles of depression, even in very young people. She wants to emphasize the continuing need for more resources to be given toward suicide prevention.
Anissa was joined by her parents, Russell and Anita Beardsley, who were known as “Papa” and “grandmother” to Allyson; and by her sister, AnneMarie Alden, Allyson’s aunt. Together, they are trying to comfort each other and find answers about why this unthinkable thing had to happen to a girl who never had to wonder if she was loved.
They say to tell the whole story, people first need to understand some background about Allyson Carina Richeson. Her middle name is a star in the galaxy. Her father wanted all his kids to have a middle name that was a star.
Allyson, her brothers — Tyler, 16, who will be a senior this year at Nevada High School, and Zachery, 13, who is going into eighth grade at Nevada Middle School — and their mom were on a Florida vacation that they had saved up a long time to take back in March of 2017 when they found out about the tragic deaths of the kids’ father and their paternal grandmother.
They both had died from gunshot wounds and AnneMarie noted it’s still a bit of a mystery what happened there. “We will probably never have all the answers,” she added.
The kids’ father, Jason Richeson, suffered from depression, and he and Anissa were divorced, but the kids were still very close to their father and his mother, so the deaths were very difficult on all of them. “But especially for Allyson,” AnneMarie said.
Anissa agreed. “She seemed to do O.K. that first year (after the deaths), but when the one-year anniversary (of the deaths) came, it was really bothering her.” Making it even more difficult was that the anniversary of Jason’s death was followed a week later by the anniversary of his birthday.
“She came to me and said that it was really bothering her and she was thinking she wanted to kill herself because she couldn’t think of how to get rid of the pain,” Anissa said.
Steps of intervention
Like any concerned parent would do, Anissa took action. She brought all her children together to talk about what they were going through. They agreed they would all find help. They got that through counselors and a psychiatrist with the Youth and Shelter Services agency in Ames, each meeting with a therapist or psychiatrist individually.
In May, the psychiatrist recommended putting Allyson on a medication called Prozac, which at first, her aunt said, seemed to help her. “She commented to me that her anxiety didn’t seem so bad.”
Anissa agreed. “We thought she was improving.”
But then, Allyson started cutting herself. Cutting is defined on kidshealth.org as “injuring yourself on purpose by making scratches or cuts on your body with a sharp object.” The website continues with the whys of cutting. “People who cut may not know better ways to get relief from emotional pain or pressure. Some people cut to express strong feelings of rage, sorrow, rejection, desperation, longing or emptiness.”
Cutting was something Allyson’s father had done, the family noted. “She was trying to hide it,” AnneMarie said. “But,” Anissa continued, “when we realized it, we took all the knives and sharp things out of the house.”
When Allyson couldn’t find things to cut with, she started burning herself and trying to hide that as well. She took a lighter and used a stick for her tool.
Anissa talked to the therapist. She wondered if getting Allyson a dog might help. Her father always had pets around, and Allyson loved pets. They already had cats and she was always doing research about their habits and what was best to feed them. She loved caring for animals. The therapist thought a dog was a good idea, and so the family adopted a 2 1/2-year-old Pomeranian named Sprinkles. They thought the name was perfect because Allyson was a huge fan of the kind of sprinkles you put on treats.
It was July 2 when the dog came home. It seemed to perk Allyson up, her mom said, but by the end of that week, Allyson burned herself again. At her next appointment with her therapist, she shared that the dog “only helped 50 percent.” And only 12 days after getting her dog, Allyson was gone, leaving those who knew her best — her family, close friends and teachers at school — in shock.
A great student, creative and artistic
At school, Allyson was described as a great student, always quiet and well mannered, and always trying to get along with everyone.
“She liked school and always wanted to be on time (at the beginning of the day),” her mom said. “She was always organized.” Grandma recalled the same, as she often helped with getting the kids to school.
In talking with teachers and staff at the school, many of whom reached out to the family, “no one could believe she was at that level (of depression),” AnneMarie said. Her three best friends’ moms said she hid it well from her friends.
The girl everyone was remembering loved school and was very artistic. Her mom gets up and goes to Allyson’s room and brings out a box of “squishies” that Allyson had collected. She loved these trendy items that you’d squeeze hard in your hand and then watch come back to form.
One of her most favorite activities, family members said, was making slime. In fact, on the last evening of her life, she and her mom had gone to the store because Allyson wanted to use her “grade money” (money from her grandparents that was earned by her good grades) to pick out her favorite stuff for slime. She loved choosing different glitters and colors for it.
She also picked out nail polish, because painting nails was another of her favorite things to do. She and her mom also got a slice of chocolate cake, one of her favorite treats, and sodas to share. “We had a great night,” Anissa said. And she hoped it made up for Alysson’s disappointment that her mom had told her earlier she was going to have get a second job to help with the bills. “She wasn’t happy about that,” Anissa said.
Their evening together, which ended up to be their last, was a perfect mother-daughter one. They sang songs all the way home. “She sang the entire song, ‘Meet Me in the Middle’ at the top of her lungs,” her mom shared. She was proud that she knew every word of it.
The loss of Allyson has left a void in her family’s lives. They now feel a need to reach out and make sure that the message about the seriousness of depression and suicide is shared.
If a young person, or anyone for that matter, mentions having feelings of ending their life, don’t stay silent. Find someone who will help them. Allyson’s friends said they didn’t know how deeply troubled Allyson was, but sometimes kids will tell their friends, and if they do, Anissa said, friends must not be afraid to tell an adult.
Papa has stayed pretty quiet during the entire conversation, but finally, he stated loud and clear his concerns, which are heavily focused on today’s society. He fully believes that kids are getting too much access to things, both online and on the television and that they’re not getting enough family time.
“Bring your families together, like we used to do. Sit down and talk… In your family home, get back to simple things like talking to each other,” he said. “Our lives are so fast now, I can’t believe it.”
Dr. Lisa Hartman, principal of Nevada Middle School, gave a beautiful message at Allyson’s funeral, and the family felt so blessed that she would do that, after just having a baby no less. They said the entire staff of the school has been nothing but wonderful in helping them through this event. Teachers have shared with the family some of Allyson’s work that they still had, and memories of a girl who was always on the move, reading to tackle her next assignment.
Allyson’s closest friends made a plaque and shirt in her honor, which were displayed at her funeral, and one of their moms reached out to HyVee about balloons for a balloon release. HyVee didn’t have the balloons but instead donated 100 roses for her funeral. Celebrations in Ames donated the balloons. Gorgeous bouquets were delivered from Perkins in Ames, where Anissa has waitressed for 12 years. Co-workers and some of her regular customers attended her daughter’s funeral, and that meant a great deal to her. “They’ve been wonderful,” Anissa said of her employer.
The Celebration of Life, held last week, was followed by a time for everyone to go to the fellowship hall and draw on or comment on a helium-filled balloon, which would later be released and sent toward Heaven. Anissa wrote on hers, “Mommy misses you and I love you.” AnneMarie drew a set of angel wings and put her niece’s date of birth and date of death on the balloon, then signed it “Love, Aunt ReeRee,” which is what the kids called her when they were young. Grandmothers’s balloon said, “I love you Allyson.” Papa’s balloon said, “Go high with God and be happy.”
“We want to be sure that everyone knows how thankful we are for their support,” AnneMarie said. The service was beautiful, and the people who attended it and who have reached out to help the family have all been appreciated beyond what words can offer as thanks.
And as Anissa holds a scrapbook that her sister made for her of photos and cards that Allyson had crafted for her through the years — she loved making cards — Annisa said it’s going to take a long time to get used to not having her daughter around. It’s going to be a huge void for her brothers, especially Zachery, who being so close in age, was always with his sister. In fact, Zachery felt something wasn’t right on that early morning of July 14. His sister told him before going to bed, “I love you,” … not something she verbally said that often. So when he went upstairs between 2 and 3 a.m. that morning and saw his sister’s door closed, he knew something wasn’t right. She was not to shut her bedroom door, which was a new rule to see that she was being safe. He woke his mom, and they found her, but it was too late. “She was so cold,” Anissa said.
A message from Pastor Myron Herzberg, who presided at the Celebration of Life, has brought them an incredible comfort now, because it focused on open doors…God’s open doors, His open arms and His unending love for all those whom he has created. “He said, ‘God spared her from what more (suffering) might have happened later on,” Anissa said. And the family can accept that. Through God, they know that Allyson is finally at peace.
wwNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1-800-273-8255