Three years ago, a local boy went from baseball star to suicide victim. His friends, family and teammates remember the issues they faced, and still face, during their grieving.
In December 2009, Cardinal Mooney High School senior Colin Hart was found shot in the head at Forest Lawn Cemetery along side his friend Jamie Serich, who was also shot in the head. Hart’s gunshot wound was self-inflicted and ruled a suicide.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, the number of suicides in 2009 was roughly 1,296. Hart was one of 39 people in the Mahoning Valley to commit suicide, only five of whom were ages 15 to 24.
Those closest to Hart still recall the time they spent with him. Youngstown State University student Brooke Reigelman is Hart’s first cousin. She said their family called them “the twins” because they looked so much alike.
Brooke Reigelman said she was close to Hart when they were growing up, because they were only four months apart.
She was a regular at his baseball games during the summers.
Brooke Reigelman learned of Hart’s death while she was at cheerleading practice at the University of Toledo. She said her aunt came in to tell her, and she immediately knew something was wrong.
During the three-hour drive home, Brooke Reigelman said she knew Hart had died, but her family waited to tell her he had committed suicide.
“The entire drive, all I could think about was how it had just been a little over two weeks since I had seen him at Thanksgiving, and how we were still stuck at the kids’ table,” Brooke Reigelman said.
Brooke Reigelman’s sister, Shelby Reigelman, said she can remember the “cousins-night sleepovers” that she would have with Hart. She said they bonded over baseball — he loved it, and she hated it, but he would encourage her to try it.
When Shelby Reigelman heard about Hart’s death, she said she could not believe it and was in utter shock.
Shelby Reigelman said she was attending youth group with her younger brother and sister that day. The pastor went into the room and told the kids they had to leave immediately.
“We only live two minutes from the church, yet it seemed so much longer because I knew something had happened. I ran upstairs in her room to find her on the phone crying hysterically,” Shelby Reigelman said, referring to her mother.
When she got home, her mother hung up the phone and said, “What I’m about to tell you is extremely sad, and I have no idea how to say this. … Your Uncle Mike called; they found Colin dead.”
The Reigelman sisters said they keep a picture of Hart, along with memorabilia from their times together, like his baseball hats.
“It’s still hard, but every day I get through it. A lot of things make me think of him, and sometimes certain things bring back such strong memories, [and] I cannot help but cry,” Shelby Reigelman said. “Not a day goes by when I don’t think about him.”
Hart’s classmate, Stephen DiPaolo, said he knew Hart since grade school. He heard the news from Cardinal Mooney’s vice principal that Sunday morning.
“I couldn’t think. I didn’t even say a word. I was speechless,” DiPaolo said. “I just stood there and hugged another good friend of mine. It was just shocking.”
DiPaolo said he has moved on, but it is still hard to cope.
Not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about Hart.
Mike Rohan was Hart’s teammate for summer baseball and said they were friends since day one. He found out about Hart’s death on Facebook during a hitting clinic at Kent State University.
“I was on break and checking my phone, and I was scrolling through my news feed on Facebook, and I kept seeing all of these people’s statuses saying ‘RIP, Colin. We love and miss you,'” Rohan said. “Then I called one of my buddies, and he verified that it was all true. I sat in shock for at least 10 minutes, just trying to wrap my head around it all.”
Rohan said his first reaction was denial.
“I just thought if I believed he was still here, he would be. I have gone to several funerals, and I never cried as hard as I did at Colin’s,” he said.
Rohan also has a picture of Hart and himself when they won the Babe Ruth League Championship on his dresser. He said he thinks about Hart every time he gets in his car and sees his prayer card on the visor.
Brooke and Shelby Reigelman, DiPaolo and Rohan agree that communication is key when coping with such a tragedy.
“The best advice I can give to someone who’s gone through something similar is to talk about it and let people in,” Brooke Reigelman said. “Eventually, you have to stop asking yourself ‘why’ or thinking you could have done more because you will only beat yourself up about it.”
DiPaolo said Hart’s death was the hardest thing he has ever gone through, and it is taking a very long time for him to make peace with it. He said he started feeling alone and abandoned, and he had so many unanswerable questions.
“You never know what’s going on inside their heads. If you notice a difference in their life, talk to them. You never know, you may just save their lives,” DiPaolo said.