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South Buffalo family turns suicide grief into a Walk of Hope

Joe and Susan Camizzi didn’t know last year who would show up for a new event born from the loss of their daughter, Mariya Camizzi Shanahan, to suicide.

It can become easy to feel isolated in the midst of such unfathomable grief.

The South Buffalo couple didn’t go alone to that first Walk of Hope. An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people joined them in Cazenovia Park during an event designed to raise awareness about mental illness and addiction – and underline their reach.

“It was indescribable to me when I looked out to see the number of people who were there, including the people who came to support us,” Susan Camizzi said. “But it was more than just us. All these people were somehow affected.”

The Camizzis have since learned that many friends and acquaintances – both new and old – share a similar experience, and long to help other Western New York families address it in the healthiest, most meaningful ways possible.

Which is why organizers planned the second annual Walk of Hope.

They encourage others to join them for a 1.5-mile walk and post-walk rally from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 20 in Cazenovia Park. The event will feature family activities, music, food trucks, a theme-basket raffle and silent auction, as well as information to help families deal with challenge related to the walk’s mission.

Registration is free, but donations are encouraged. The first 300 people who give $15 or more will receive a commemorative T-shirt. Walkers can preregister at by May 13. Registration on the day of the event will start at 9 a.m.

[BELOW: Warning signs of suicide and resources to get help]

“The whole gist of this thing is to bring awareness to the fact that this can happen to any person,” Susan Camizzi said. “It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t recognize your race. And your socioeconomic standard certainly doesn’t matter.”

Addiction and suicide are both public health matters. Roughly one person a day dies from an opioid overdose in Erie County. Twice as many people die from suicide than homicide in New York State. It is the second leading cause of death statewide among those aged 25 to 34, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The idea for the Walk of Hope came from Mike Blake, who coached the Camizzis’ daughter in the South Buffalo Soccer League when she was a girl. Mariya went on to play soccer at Hutchinson Technical High School, and continue to play and watch it when she could after becoming a special education teacher. Former members of Mariya’s teams also wanted to help.

At first there was talk of a soccer tournament in her memory. The Camizzi family, however, including brother Michael, and best friend Katelyn Gensler Moore, were interested in an event that might include a greater number of participants.

The first walk came less than a year after Mariya died. The confidence she showed in her teaching job, and the compassion she showed for her students, family and other loved ones, belied the inner challenges that led her to die by suicide in the early morning hours of Nov. 10, 2015. Her death came several weeks after she started her third year at Buffalo Public School 81. She was 27.

“As you think back and you look back,” her mother said, “you ask, what did we miss? Not that I blame myself, but what did we miss where we could have helped her?”

Most, but not all, of those who die by suicide exhibit warning signs, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Mariya had a meltdown in front of her friends and fiance three months before her wedding. The professional planner who helped with the July 2015 wedding had never seen a bride-to-be so prepared, including with color-coded charts that broke down every detail of what she wanted. There also were some bumps in her new marriage. Her parents said they reasoned these were normal during such a big transition in her life.

The intent of the first walk was not to make money, the Camizzis said. The same holds true this year. Donations last year were channeled to Crisis Services for staff training, Horizon Health Services for its Elm Street resource center, the South Buffalo Franciscan Center, and two soup kitchens in neighborhood churches that count those with addictions and mental illnesses among those they serve.

Susan Camizzi is a dental assisting educator at the University at Buffalo; her husband, a live entertainment advertising account representative with The Buffalo News. They continue to have good days and bad days in the aftermath of their family tragedy.

Susan Camizzi has this counsel as those in a similar place mourn the loss of a loved one:

“Try to remember them in a positive way,” she said. “On a bad day, I ask, ‘Why did she do this?’ On a good day, we’re thankful we had this much time with her. We’re better people because of her.”

The decision to continue the Walk of Hope reflects the good days – which is why family members will return to Caz Park soon, wearing T-shirts that picture Mariya’s favorite flower, a sunflower, as well as a ladybug, because one landed on her coffin during her funeral.

“The walk is a remembrance to her,” her mother said. “She would have been involved if this had happened to one of her friends or family members.”


– Talking about wanting to die

– Looking for a way to kill oneself

– Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose

– Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

– Talking about being a burden to others

– Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

– Acting anxiously, agitated or recklessly

– Sleeping too little or too much

– Withdrawing or feeling isolated

– Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

– Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

– Do not leave the person alone

– Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt

– Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

Depression, other mental illness and addiction is treatable

For help, call the 24-hour Crisis Services hotline at 834-3131, its 24-hour addiction hotline at 831-7007, or the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon


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