Following Death of Murrieta Valley Football Player, Students and Parents Focus on Suicide Prevention Week

Ed Villareal, father of Diego Villareal, speaks to the media while attending Wednesday's press conference with his wife Bobbi and daug...

Ed Villareal, father of Diego Villareal, speaks to the media while attending Wednesday's press conference with his wife Bobbi and daughter Ava.
Murrieta 24/7 photo: Doug Spoon

Students at Murrieta Valley High School are working hard on an educational campaign this week, which is National Suicide Prevention Week. They are doing so because this issue hit home recently, and it hit hard.

They don't want it to happen again.

Diego Villareal, a 16-year-old junior and a defensive end on the school's football team, committed suicide on Aug. 2. Since then, the community as a whole has drawn together in support of the Villareal family and of one another, while the school community has increased its already active participation in suicide awareness and prevention programs.

During a press conference held Wednesday, Sept. 9 at MVHS, Villareal's father and a student body representative spoke not only about the loss of Diego, but of ways in which such tragedies can be avoided in the future.

"This is something I never expected to happen, and I'm putting forth as much effort as I can to make sure this doesn't happen again," said MVHS student Kaylee Williams, president of the school's chapter of SADD -- Students Against Destructive Decisions. "It's so hard for all us to deal with. We've started a campaign to make sure everyone feels they are loved and appreciated.

"We've realized we do need to come together as students and make everybody feel loved and appreciated. A lot of us take advantage of living in Murrieta because it's so safe and such a nice place to live. This made us feel like we're more grateful for where we live and the opportunities we get. I've met so many people because of this. Some of Diego's teammates on the football team have opened up to me. I think a wall has come down."

Other resources are available to students as well. Rebecca Antillon (left) of the Riverside County Office of Public Health attended Wednesday's press conference and discussed a year-round program in which the county provides training and support for students and parents. And there are the parents themselves -- heartbroken but determined to help others avoid what happened to their family.

Diego's father, Ed, said there was no indication to family members or Diego's teammates that he was troubled or considering such a tragic decision. He described Diego as a loving young man who was so dedicated to football that he wouldn't settle for anything less than the best level of performance.

"Diego was a very committed, polite, respectful teenager," Ed Villareal said. "I couldn't think of a kinder soul who would put others' needs before his own. One of the coaches said a new player came to the school not too long ago and Diego was the first to go up and welcome him to the team. He was a dedicated athlete who loved football.

"Diego was doing well and for a kid of age 16, he was stronger than an ox. He was 6-2 and 220. But to Diego, he wanted to be 6-4 and 240 right now. He didn't want to wait.

"For him, it was making a Division I school or bust. Smaller colleges were already contacting him, but he seemed disinterested. We constantly talked to him about enjoying the present and that college is about getting an education and sports are secondary. If you would have told me my son would commit suicide and my wife and I would hold onto him as he died in our arms, I would've told you you're from a different planet."

Ed Villareal acknowledged the pressure on high school football players to perform well and earn college scholarships, but he said he believed those around Diego did a lot to put things into perspective. The goal now, he said, is for students and the adults supporting them to be even more aware of circumstances and increase communication that stresses positive actions.

That isn't always easy, however.

"We've thought of that over and over, my wife and I," Ed Villareal said in response to a question about pressure placed on college football prospects. "I think it's the pressure Diego put on himself. We gave him so many different avenues: 'If you don't make it at a Division I school, there's great Division II and II schools. There's junior colleges, even trade schools.' I don't know if it went in one ear and out the other. Sometimes teenagers make impulsive decisions.

"Parents and other adults should talk to the kids and have them talk to influential people at the school. Have a career day and show them football is secondary.

"Here is my message to kids: Please say something. Talk to your friends, a pastor, a teacher, administrator, someone. Call me. My son was a chameleon at masking his emotions. He was always saying he was alright. Go to #playfordiego and see the love his friends and family have shown.

"My wife and I did everything right. We talked about suicide to both our kids. But unlike many suicides, my son showed no unusual warning signs people may display. You may be the best parents on earth, but fate may find you. We are broken because of this, but we will persevere. I know my son is with us and I see it in the continued support from our community."

Kaylee Williams explained that on Wednesday of this week, members of the school SADD chapter passed out sticker sheets and encouraged students to write a compliment about a friend, who then wore that sticker throughout the delay and passed on similar stickers to others. Thursday's activity was Resolution Thursday, where students wrote down their goals for this year or in general. Those resolutions will be posted on the MVHS SADD Facebook page here.

In addition, a college scholarship in Diego's name has been established for "students who, like Diego, struggle in school but work hard everyday to reach their academic and personal goals," according to the school's website, You can read about it here.

MVHS student Kaylee Williams speaks to the media about the school's suicide prevention campaign.


Suicide Prevention Week 4831754195098710354

Post a Comment


Follow Us

Subscribe Via E-mail