After Giovanni L. “Gio” Rios, 22, committed suicide on March 25, 2011, his mother received comfort from Debby Larkins, the mother of his best friend.
In a tragic twist almost two years later, Idalmy Rios comforted Larkins when her son and Giovanni Rios’ best friend, David Reo Hulitt, 24, committed suicide on Feb. 23.
Since then, the two mothers have joined together to organize a walk to raise awareness regarding suicide. The march will be held May 25 at Highlands Hammock State Park. Participants will meet at the entrance.
Larkins said suicide is a topic that families often don’t want to talk about, especially in public. But national statistics, she said, show that one occurs every nine seconds.
“We want to raise the blinders,” she said.
The mothers say they hope this will help other families avoid the tragedies their families experienced.
At the time, the families didn’t know each other. And they never encountered each other at the hospital.
During the ensuing decades, both families ended up moving to Highlands County. Only after both sons started working at the Walmart in Sebring did they get to know each other.
“They were very close,” Larkins said.
The two sons loved fishing, played video games and did other activities together. They even became roommates and shared a house owned by Rios at the time of her son’s death.
Bryan Hulitt, the brother of David Hulitt, recalls that the two friends had a lot of fun together and lived life to the fullest.
“He (Rios) would live every day like it was his last day,” Brian Hulitt said. “David was the same way.”
He said Rios would joke about his name: “Don’t you know, I’m a Cuban Italian?” Bryan Hulitt remembered he’d say.
“They had hearts of gold,” Idalmy Rios said. “They would do anything for each other and their friends.”
The last time she saw him was at Walmart about 40 minutes before it’s believed he committed suicide.
“He was pale and he was really calm,” Rios recalled, adding that was in contrast to his usual happy go-lucky personality.
But she said had no idea he was planning to take his own life.
Later, she received a text message from him, saying, “I’m sorry,” she recalled. “That’s when knew something wasn’t right.”
She said she didn’t meet Larkins until at the funeral.
Larkins said her son had trouble dealing with not being at home at the time Rios committed suicide. She said he was at Highlands Hammock State Park taking his son, Drake, fishing when that occurred. He later discovered he had missed a call on his cell phone from bad reception in that area.
“I think David always struggled with that,” Larkins said.
She said he had become a father at the age of 17. She said he insisted on paying more than the minimum amount of child support for his son and by the time of his suicide had paid enough Social Security for his son to be eligible for full benefits.
Because of some circumstances involving a business, David Hulitt later struggled to pay child support and that was a difficult period in his life, Larkins said.
Other factors in his life may have played a role, but Larkins said that she’s not blaming anyone else for the suicide.
“This was a choice,” she said. “It was David’s choice.”