Sienna Caselle was perpetually smiling.
The 16-year-old’s smile was as much her uniform as her plaid shirts, bandannas and snapback trucker hat. Her motto: Ride fast, take chances.
Sienna’s smile was so infectious, her attitude so uplifting and passionate, that no one saw the hints she would end her own life.
Her mother and her sister are still in shock, said her father, Michael Caselle. He might be, too, he said, in an interview in the back of Stauffer Funeral Home in Thurmont, after a memorial service for Sienna on Wednesday. He invited The Frederick News-Post to the service to hear memories of Sienna, celebrate her life and, hopefully, through coverage, guide others away from suicide.
“We want to make sure people hear us when we say there is always somebody to talk to,” he said.
In Maryland, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. On average, every 14½ hours, someone kills himself or herself in Maryland, according to the foundation’s statistics.
In retrospect, after Sienna’s death on Friday, there were small signs that went unnoticed, Michael said in an interview.
She came into her home near Thurmont with bloodshot eyes one night. Her mother, Anna, asked her if she was OK. Sienna brushed it off as allergies.
But Sienna wasn’t giving away her possessions, one warning sign often attributed to possible suicide. Her prom tickets were still hanging on the fridge.
“She came home that night, and she showed us an empty jug of washer fluid she had just purchased and filled her Jeep with,” Anna said. “She was astonished it was so expensive. That’s not a person who doesn’t plan on being there tomorrow.”
Sienna was born in Colorado and raised in the Thurmont area. When not attending Catoctin High School, she worked at St. Joseph’s Ministries in Emmitsburg. She volunteered in organizations assisting veterans with disabilities. She taught people with disabilities how to ski, snowboard and water-ski through nonprofits including the Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation and On the Edge Children’s Foundation.
Frederick County Councilman Billy Shreve, a close family friend, said that even at age 8, Sienna was zipping around most of the adults at Whitetail Resort in Pennsylvania, where he teaches. She was the Shaun White of Whitetail, he said with a laugh, referring to a professional snowboarder and skateboarder.
“She was larger than life,” Shreve said.
Never did Sienna see disability in her students, only potential, her parents said.
She was her dad’s little shadow. But with adolescence came the inevitability of gaining her own life, her own independence and friends — something Michael was adjusting to.
Sienna and her father worked together at Whitetail. Around the time she started high school, they left Whitetail and went to Liberty Mountain Resort. She proclaimed to the people there, Michael recalled, that daughter and father were a “package deal.”
Sienna volunteered with the Wounded Warrior Project because of her father’s involvement. Both Michael and Anna are retired from the Army, they said.
Her penchant for plaid also came from her father. She stole his before wearing her own.
In the crowd that amassed for Wednesday’s service, flickers of plaid could be spotted in crowd. People wore bandannas twisted into hair, on wrists, hanging out of the back of pockets.
Bandannas are used to cover a snowboarder’s face, and Sienna wore them often, along with her broad-rimmed snapbacks and thick-rimmed sunglasses.
One by one, Sienna’s friends, her family, her mentors stood before the audience and recounted their memories.
Robert Westfall, a veteran whom Sienna worked with, said that after his chemotherapy treatment for his cancer, she poked fun at his resemblance to the bald Mr. Clean. She suggested filling in his eyebrows with a Sharpie, Westfall said.
In kindergarten at Sabillasville Elementary School, Sienna met Katie Shaffer.
The girls were inseparable, Katie said. Sienna taught her how to be a friend and was a constant for her in difficult times. Conversations, though, didn’t explore sadness often, Shaffer said.
Sienna texted Katie recently, reminding her of the time the girls laughed over the word “bodacious” for hours. Katie initially believed she had invented the word.
“I found out that it was in the dictionary,” she said with a laugh. “She texted me the other day, randomly out of the blue: ‘Remember the word bodacious?’”
“It made me smile. She was my childhood. ... It’s kind of hard for me. I’m like, who else is going to know all these stupid things about me?”
On the warm steps of the funeral home, Sienna’s 19-year-old sister, Sierra Caselle, propped herself up against a pillar, deliberately avoiding the service.
Her fiancé, Jayson Schroeder, sat behind her. A close young family friend, Madi Moran, sat in her lap.
The memorial service for Sienna came one day before Sierra and Jayson, who are both in the U.S. Air Force, planned to be married.
Initially, Sierra didn’t want to be interviewed right away. Yet she wanted to help people by sharing her and her sister’s story. Sierra loved her sister, but was angry at her, too. Suicide is a selfish act, she said.
Depression runs on her father’s side of the family. Everybody was always looking at Sierra, wanting to make sure she wasn’t struggling with depression. She was, and she asked for help.
“It’s kind of like when everybody’s eyes are on you, they’re not looking at someone else,” Sierra said. “Once I got better, I wish I would have talked to her, asked her ... ‘Have you noticed that you just kind of have good days, and then you’re upset, and you just don’t want to move?’ I didn’t do that. Honestly, I thought she just didn’t have it.”
Partway through the interview, Bethany Ring, whose children Sierra and Sienna baby-sat, asked Sierra if she could read something on her behalf during the service, even though Ring said she hates public speaking.
Sierra considered the offer. She borrowed a pen and paper, and wrote down her words. Ring read them before the crowd:
“Your love and support will really make a difference in this whole process. I don’t want to share any negative feelings or thoughts right now. I’m angry. But I still love her, and miss her so much. All that I ask of you guys is to continue to be there for my parents. They need us.”
An hour later, the crowd had emptied out of the funeral home. Michael remained behind, to talk to a reporter about Sienna.
A song reminds him of Sienna, he said, browsing on his phone for the video of the song, Charlie Puth’s “One Call Away.”
He removed a bandanna, a neon cheetah print, from around his neck and twisted it around his hand, then played the song. He sang along softly.
“No matter where you go, know you’re not alone.
I’m only one call away. I’ll be there to save the day. Superman got nothing on me. I’m only one call away.”
Before Sienna’s death, she and her father were working to found a nonprofit that helps veterans with disabilities. The logo was designed, the bylaws were written, and the articles of incorporation were secured.
It would have been called “One Way or Another Adaptive Recreational Sports Foundation.”
The mission will be expanded now, to assist not only those with physical disabilities, but also disabilities “on the inside,” such as emotional distress.
Michael rattled off a statistic — 22 veterans and one active-duty service member take their lives every day, a widely cited figure.
The new nonprofit will honor Sienna and promote suicide awareness.
“You know, it’s only going to be bad for 24 hours,” Michael said, paraphrasing a speaker from the memorial service. “And then a new day starts. And then when the new day starts, it’s not going to be as bad as it was yesterday. The sun is going to come up.
“I’ve said this every day since it happened: ‘The sun came up today.’ When we feel like we’re at our darkest, we need to know that the sun still came out, you know?”