BATESVILLE Keith and Cindy Davis of Batesville were in uncharted territory.
How does one deal with the death of a child, particularly when that child dies by suicide?
Over time, they realized their 15-year-old son had been carrying an invisible load that had just become too much to bear, and now they are talking openly with children and adults about suicide.
The couple use a loaded backpack as a symbol of what it feels like to carry that with them throughout the day.
Now, to help keep Austin’s memory alive and to bring awareness to their family’s story, the Davises will hold a barbecue dinner, silent auction and concert to raise money for the newly formed Austin Shay Davis Memorial Scholarship.
The fundraiser will be at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Southside High School Auditorium, 70 Scott Drive in Batesville. Austin, who died on May 2 of this year, would have turned 16 on Oct. 12.
Barbecue dinner tickets are $10, and concert tickets are $20, but additional donations will be accepted at the door. Tickets may be purchased at Batesville High School, Southside High School, VanWinkle Sports, Dr. Bradley Griffin’s dental office, Thrivent Financial, Hawgs Exxon and at the door during the event.
Randy and Stephanie Wade of Randy’s Music will perform.
Cindy credits Rocky Morgan with gathering items for the silent auction, and she said she is thankful for him because she and Keith could not have organized everything for the event while working full time.
“Austin was a great young man, and this is a worthy cause,” Morgan said.
A ride in a hot air balloon is one of the big-ticket items, Morgan said. “I gave my wife one on her birthday one year, and and she loved it.”
Other silent-auction items include a guided crappie-fishing trip, rounds of golf at The Course at Eagle Mountain and Cooper’s Hawk, a Yeti cooler, gymnastics and trampolining classes, a birthday party at Independence Elite, a framed print of the lock and dam on the White River, three loads of gravel, baseball/softball travel bags, a chaise, a toy combine, Dairy Queen gift cards, oil changes, a facial, a baby blanket and more.
“We’re still collecting stuff,” Morgan said.
With the proceeds, the Davises hope to award a scholarship annually to an area student who maintains at least a 2.5 grade-point average and is planning to attend a community college or trade school.
Cindy said the scholarship was her husband, Keith’s, idea, and they have striven to keep the qualifications in line with what Austin would have wanted.
• • •
Austin was a surprise baby. After the birth of their older son, Isaac, Cindy and Keith tried for years to have another baby without luck. So they decided to adopt and had already started the adoption process when Cindy found out she was pregnant, she said.
Their boys were born
7 1/2 years apart, and like his big brother, Austin loved anything outdoors — fishing and hunting. He and Keith would take an annual fishing trip to Greers Ferry. He was a country boy through and through, Cindy said.
Caleb Hewitt met Austin nine years ago at a hunter’s-education class.
“Austin didn’t know a stranger — he could talk to a brick wall,” Caleb said, chuckling. “I was sitting there with my dad, and we didn’t know anybody, and this little bitty fella came walking up. He introduced himself, and five minutes later, I knew everything about him, where he lived, what his phone number was.”
They were good friends from that day on, despite Caleb’s being three years older.
“He was the little brother I never had and always wanted,” Caleb said.
Caleb’s father managed the shooting range north of town, where Cindy also worked. Both she and Caleb’s dad would take their kids there to shoot, even at a young age. More than once, Caleb and Austin would serve as “fill-ins” on teams that were missing a member.
Cindy said it wasn’t uncommon to see her 10-year-old son filling in on a team whose other members were a good 40 years older than he was. “They would look at me like, ‘He’s gonna shoot with us?’ and I would say, ‘Yeah, you’ll be fine.’”
While in high school, Austin joined the trap-shooting team and participated in the annual O2 Shootout, a tournament named for two Batesville students, Will Olson and Camdon Osborn, who died in a car accident in 2015. In 2018, the last year the tournament was held, Austin also won the high overall award for the junior division.
• • •
If there was anything Austin liked more than shooting trap, it might have been talking.
Cindy said Austin’s grades would often depend on how well the teachers kept him focused on his work instead of on talking.
“He was there [at school] for socializing,” she said.
But he really liked the agri classes and had recently gotten into welding, his mom said.
“He was just starting it, but he had already welded with his grandpa and his uncle, so he knew about it, so he was doing well with it and got to help other kids with it.”
Austin Davis wasn’t the best student at Batesville High School. He didn’t have the best grades, he wasn’t the most popular, and according to his mom, he was being bullied at school and on social media.
“He liked to talk and maybe not mind [teachers],” Cindy said. “He didn’t fit into their box.”
Caleb said he saw some of the incidents, recalling that one time, some of Austin’s friends wanted to leave a football game and go to a party, but Austin would stay where he was. “There were some rude comments and things like that,” Caleb said.
Cindy said Austin had told her and Keith a little about what was going on, even about dabbling in drugs.
“He was considered a snitch for telling and was bullied for that, and kids wanted to fight him at school,” she said.
After Austin’s death, Cindy took off work for six weeks while the family grieved. Keith and Isaac, who now lives in Oil Trough, felt they could not go back to the house where Austin died because it was too emotionally painful, so Cindy said it was up to her to get their clothes and the things they would need.
That first week, the family stayed at the home of a friend who was going to be out of town.
“That got us all the way through the funeral,” Cindy said. “Then we went to Newport and stayed with one of my high school friends. Then the third week, we went to a co-worker’s cabin and lived there a month. Then after that, we got an apartment in Charlotte for two months, so we’ve been all over the world. … There was one point in time that we’d lived, in seven weeks, four different places.”
Hoping to set some roots down, the Davises finally bought a new house in Batesville and began to remodel it, and they sold the other, closing the chapter on the house that held all their painful reminders.
“We couldn’t go back. I couldn’t make it harder on them (Keith and Isaac) than it already was, so we had to move,” Cindy said.
• • •
Cindy said she has a “wall” she tries to keep up, but there are moments when she can’t stop the tears. She also has memory loss, a side effect of the trauma of her son’s suicide.
“I’ve had a lot of memory loss. Sometimes it’s even functional things, like how to drive home: What home am I going to?”
Keith and Cindy were asked last June to address a group of teenagers at a leadership conference in Fairfield Bay, something Austin had attended.
Cindy said she and Keith weren’t sure they could even speak, but they believe that kids need to know what happens when someone dies by suicide.
“We talked about [what happened] from that night, how it is when you don’t go back home, your whole family doesn’t go back home, how you have to pick out your child’s casket. We hit the very hard topics.”
Cindy explained how she and Keith would drive out of town to go eat, and on the way, she’d want to put her hand on Austin’s knee in the backseat and say, “Hey, get off your phone.”
Another trigger would be seeing a dealership and looking over at the trucks, wondering which one Austin would like.
“But there’s no Austin in the backseat,” Cindy said through tears. “He’s not there, and you don’t get to pick out that truck.”
The teenagers, Cindy said, were very responsive to her and Keith and came up to them afterward to share stories. The kids were shocked, and some were crying.
“I could tell some had thought about it. I could tell as I talked, by their reactions — you just know,” Cindy said, adding that she could see herself and Keith giving more talks like this.
“People don’t know what to do to help. Keith and I are at the end of what happens. We’ve been there,” Cindy said. “You have to be honest, and you have to lay it on the table because you don’t want it to happen again. You just cannot, as an adult, afford to hide anything.”
More recently, Keith and Cindy spoke to about 40 Newport High School FFA students about sharing their burdens, using the backpack symbolism.
“We put bricks and rocks in the backpacks and labeled them social media, schoolwork, peer pressure, drugs, sex, parents’ expectations,” Cindy said. “These are things that are hard to carry, that teens feel like they have to deal with alone.”
Keith and Cindy had students put the heavy backpacks on and walk around a bit, letting the struggle become evident to everyone. Then, one by one, the couple had other students take the bricks and rocks out and carry them alongside those wearing the backpacks.
Cindy encouraged the students to talk to friends, to put down those rocks and bricks.
“It’s lighter when you don’t have to carry the whole load by yourself,” Cindy said.