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'I found him, it was horrible': Why a dad and teacher whose son died of suicide wants this bill to pass

The Mitch Warnock Act would require teachers to be trained to look for the warning signs before suicide in an effort to lower the numbers of teen suicide.

PHOENIX — Arizona’s teen suicide rate has been on the rise in the past few years. Many of those who took their own lives were living right here in the Valley.

According to the latest available statistics, 50 Valley teens took their lives in 2017, a 32 percent increase from the year before. 

This year, parents are pushing for change through SB1468 which, if passed, would require teachers to take evidence-based training to help recognize the warning signs of suicide.

The legislation would provide protections for teachers acting in good faith.

Wednesday, in the House Judiciary Committee, parents gave power testimony detailing how their children passed. 

The families speaking included the Warnocks, who adopted their son Mitch. 

"As soon as we saw him we fell in love with him, his little buzz cut," Tim Warnock said. 

Both Laurie and Tim are educators, Laurie in the classroom, Tim, a physical education teacher. 

Their little child grew into one of the top pole vaulters in the country. However, according to his father, Mitch often felt his only way to college was through pole vaulting.

His junior year, Mitch finished third at state, seen as a setback.

Tim said he and his wife saw warning signs, but not until it was too late. 

"I found him, it was horrible,” Tim Warnock said his son was still breathing. "I bent down to do a rescue breath his last breath came out, the taste of it, the smell of it the sound of it going into my lungs it disintegrated every part of me."

Credit: Tim Warnock
Mitch Warnock
Credit: Tim Warnock
Tim and Mitch Warnock

"I could not see him as clearly as maybe a teacher does, seeing him in different settings," Tim Warnock said. 

Tim said he does not feel the legislation would add too much to the plate of teachers. He compared it to how teachers are already trained to look for signs of physical abuse, and what to do if they see the signs. 

Warnock said the bill would create a similar system but focused on looking for signs that go beyond normal teenage stress and angst. 

"This is not calling for the teacher to be the counselor. " Warnock said. "It's about the emotional side, the wellness side."

The proposed bill made it out of the House Committee, it's already passed in the Senate, but still has a way to go before it could become law. It's next step will be on the House floor.