CONWAY, Ark. – A family and school is making sure the story of one student lives on.
Hannah Jane Hammond was a 14-year-old Conway High School freshman in band and color guard who lost her battle with mental illness last school year when she took her life September 29, 2021.
Playing in unison April 25, the Conway High School Symphonic Band can still feel the loss. During its spring concert, suicide awareness received as loud of applause as any song when Band Director Nathan Cunningham announced the Hannah Jane Hammond Memorial Endowment.
“It was a tough moment for us,” Richard Hammond, the father of Hannah Jane admitted.
“It’s hard sitting in the audience, because we wish we were there to watch her with her peers,” Leighia Hammond, Hannah Jane’s mother added.
Both parents didn’t get to hear their daughter’s clarinet or watch her captain color guard as a sophomore, because she never made it past freshman year. Her struggle with mental illness ended with her taking her own life.
Suicides like Hannah Jane’s are not uncommon. The latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show in 2020 suicide was the third-leading cause of death in teenagers, and it was the second-leading cause of death for those in Hannah’s age group 10 to 14.
In Arkansas, thirty-one 15 to 19 year olds committed suicide in 2020. In all age groups, Arkansas has the 11th highest suicide rate in the nation.
“Hannah Jane loved a lot of things, but band was that one consistent from sixth grade on that she just loved,” Leigha Hammond said.
Sophomore Josie Ghormley, a classmate and band camp roommate with Hannah Jane, bonded with her through making music.
“It was a class we knew we’d have together, and so that was a time I knew I could always talk to her,” Ghormley said.
She and the rest of Hannah Jane’s classmates were shocked when their duet friendship became a solo, and the announcement of the Hannah Jane Hammond Memorial Endowment was a second surprise.
The first contributions of money to start the endowment came from Hannah Jane’s parents who asked for band donations in lieu of flowers at her funeral.
“We didn’t care what it was used for, we just knew the band could use it,” Leighia said.
It took more than a year for the Conway Booster Club organization to privately build those first funds until a $10,000 endowment could be established.
The week before the Spring concert, CHS Band Director Nathan Cunningham asked the Hammonds if they could name the memorial endowment after Hannah Jane. Leighia said she and Richard both started to cry.
“Other band students are going to benefit year after year, and not just band students it will be all of the people who listen to the music that they make,” Leighia said.
The endowment announcement was a total surprise to the students performing on stage.
“But I think it was emotional in a happy way. We were proud that something was being made of it,” Ghormley said.
The fund will give scholarships to band students for private lessons or band camps. Hannah Jane’s parents hope to expand the endowment into having an educational component where more conversations can happen about mental health and suicide prevention.
“We need to be transparent. We need to share her story in hopes that it will help another child, another family, that it’s okay to talk about it,” Leighia said. “We knew that she was struggling, and she was in therapy, but as a parent, dealing with a child that is struggling, you don’t really know. I just wish there were a lot more resources.”
May is Mental Health Awareness month. To donate the Hannah Jane Hammond Memorial Endowment click here. It’s her memory enhancing the music and lives of those she left behind.
“Me personally, it really put everything into view, and obviously I wanted to check in on people,” Ghormley said. “It’s still there and I still think about it, and I still want to check in on people.”