McHenry family mourns 11-year-old Lilyana Soto's death

Sixth-grader took her own life Sept. 8, fundraiser in place for funeral costs

A McHenry family is mourning the loss of an 11-year-old daughter, sister and student after her suicide earlier this week.

Lilyana Soto was a bright, independent girl who loved Batman, origami and Harry Potter. She was in sixth grade at McHenry School District 15’s McHenry Middle School and had a younger brother, stepsister and half-sister. She died Saturday.

“This was really out of left field,” said her father, Ernesto Soto. “She did a very good job of not letting her emotions show. [The community] has been incredible. I am surprised at how many people are coming out and showing support.”

Lilyana’s aunt, Lucia Soto, said she wanted other families to be cognizant of the danger of adolescent suicide.

“I want to raise awareness of the situation,” Lucia Soto said. “Talk to your children. Have your kids tell on each other [if they see a friend struggling].”

Lilyana’s funeral will be at 10 a.m. Friday at The Church of Holy Apostles, 5211 Bull Valley Road in McHenry. Her wake was Thursday.

A GoFundMe is in place to support the family. It had raised more than $15,000 as of Thursday, more than double its $7,000 goal.

“Family and friends, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all of the support and generosity,” the Soto family wrote on the page. “The kind words have been cherished at this most difficult of times. There are no words for the amount of appreciation we have for each and every one of you.”

McHenry’s Lemonade Brigade hosted an additional fundraiser Thursday at McHenry Middle School. McHenry’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4600 also had Lemonade Brigade donation buckets out at its facility to support the family.

Aubrey Hennig, 15, co-founded the Lemonade Brigade and said she heard about the Soto family through a District 15 announcement.

“I immediately thought there was something we could do to help,” she said. “If we can reach $10,000 [through our own fundraising], I think that would be amazing.”

District 15 has offered supportive services to students and staff in the aftermath of Lilyana’s passing, which officials called “heartbreaking” in a statement posted to the district website.

“The loss of a young life is tragic and devastating,” the post read. “Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends and the entire community.”

Suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in 2016 in the U.S., claiming the lives of about 45,000 people, according to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, second only to death by unintentional injury, according to the CDC.

McHenry County Mental Health Board Director Scott Block advised parents to watch their children for warning signs that include talking about self-harm or troubling events such as bullying or school stressors, increased anxiety, agitation or social withdrawal and intense mood swings.

Other signs can include talking about wanting to die, increased alcohol or drug use, sleep disturbances, talking about feeling hopeless or like a burden and looking for ways to kill oneself.

“You need to ask the questions, listen without judgment and seek outside assistance when appropriate,” Block said. “There is no evidence that asking someone about their suicidal ideation actually escalates the potential of the act. That is a common myth.”

Research suggests those who are close to victims of suicide are at a higher risk of developing suicidal thoughts, Block said.

“It is important that parents, family members, school officials and anyone else are on hyperalert and aware of signs and symptoms that were previously noted,” Block said.

Anyone feeling depressed is encouraged to call the McHenry County Crisis Line at 800-892-8900.

McHenry County teens also can use the mobile app, “MCHELP,” to connect with trained, licensed mental health counselors. To use the service, students can type in the code “MCHELP” and send their concerns to the McHenry County Crisis Center.

Both services are available 24/7, 365 days a year.

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