PERU, Iowa - “To the bullies out there who succeeded in making Dan feel worthless, he wasn't.”
Those are the words printed out in Dan James Richards’ obituary. At 16-years-old, he took his own life last week.
"He didn't have a mean bone in his body,” the obituary went on to say.
Just days away from his 17th birthday, Dan was the ideal teenager, one who rarely argued, and was involved in choir, chess, and football.
"He was always smiling and then there was this quick wit,” Laura Dowda, Dan’s mother said. A personality that made his choice to take his own life that much harder to grasp.
"Never would of thought Dan,” Mary Richards, Dan’s oldest sister, told WHO. “The last person I would've expected,” Danelle Richards, Dan’s middle sister said.
"I'm around so many who are feeling so much guilt right now because they didn't see the signs. There were no signs to see,” Tim Haynie, Dan’s grandfather said.
They were left with a lot of questions, but know bullying played a role.
"We would ask him, ‘Are you being bullied?’ and he would say, ‘Don't worry about it. I've got it taken care of,’ or he'd just shrug. So we knew he was being bullied, but he just didn't want to make a big issue of it,” Dowda said.
That's why the whole family collaborated to write an obituary that would raise awareness.
"The whole reason we are gathering here and doing this is to possibly prevent just one other person, one other teenager from doing this. And one other family from having to go through this pain because it's the worst pain you could ever imagine,” Mary said.
The family goes on to write directly to those bullies: "The family has no hard feelings towards you and you are forgiven."
The words striking a chord with Iowans all across the state. The family hopes sharing their sorrow will bring change.
"I raised my kids that way to not be better than anybody else, to just respect other people as if they want to be respected,” said Dan’s father Danny Richards.
In the end, they just asked for one thing.
"In lieu of flowers, we ask that everyone be kind to each other,” the obituary said. You can read the full obituary here.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/