OTTAWA – A high-profile NHL family opened their private nightmare to the world on Wednesday in an effort to raise public awareness about teen suicide.
Daron Richardson, the 14-year-old daughter of Ottawa Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson, took her own life last Friday at the family’s Ottawa home.
Richardson, his wife Stephanie and their daughter Morgan, 16, donated Daron’s organs so that others might live, then tried to help ensure that other families don’t endure their trauma.
The family “openly shared the circumstances of her death to remove the stigma of pain and fear associated with suicide,” Roshene Lawson, chaplain of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, said at a “celebration of life service” at Scotiabank Place, the Senators home arena.
“They want to spare other families the pain they are suffering.”
Daron’s “final act,” said Lawson, “was not her death on Friday, but giving life to others on Sunday.”
Four people benefited from transplants due to the Richardsons’ selflessness.
The public ceremony drew a crowd of about 5,600, including more than 100 NHL alumni, to the suburban hockey rink on a blustery, wet weekday morning,
Richardson is a former defenceman who played 21 seasons in the NHL with six different teams and those grieving with the family included Paul Coffey, Shayne Corson, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Ron Hextall, Bill Ranford and a host of other former NHL stars. A teary Garry Galley was the master of ceremonies.
The entire Senators hockey club abbreviated a four-game road trip to return home for the ceremony and flew out immediately afterward for a game Wednesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
But this was not a day about NHL stardom—apart from the platform it provided for reaching a wider public audience.
Busloads of students from two private schools Daron attended in Ottawa were in the audience.
The message appeared to be getting through.
“If you need help, you need to go ask for help,” Katherine Maine, 13, said outside the rink as she arrived with friends Leah Buchanan and Hannah Sanders.
All three had played hockey with Daron, who was described as both an elite athlete and an immensely popular, gifted student in art and theatre.
Mike Dagenais, Daron’s godfather and a former junior teammate of Luke Richardson with the Peterborough Petes, gave a eulogy in which he described one of Daron’s defining characteristics as “her love for life.”
It was one of many profoundly puzzling moments in the day.
Daron, whose extensive family travels took her from Stonehenge to the Galapagos Islands, had a large circle of close friends. A top hockey player, she also learned to water ski at age three and went bungee jumping at five.
Bryan Murray, the Senators general manager, said afterward there’s no immunity for anyone from family tragedy, pro athletes or otherwise.
“As much as we try to be part of our children’s lives, things do happen that are complicated sometimes and we don’t always—we certainly don’t have the answers in this case,” said Murray.
Cyril Leeder, the president of Senators Sports and Entertainment, said the Richardson family “chose the road less travelled.”
“Sometimes that road is more difficult, but it doesn’t mean it’s not the right path to choose,” Leeder said after the ceremony.
“They wanted to make something good happen out of a tragedy and they were able to raise the awareness on teen suicide and also provide organ donations so that four others could go forward.”
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Royal Ottawa Health Foundation’s Youth Program.