ORION’S LETTER: Local high schooler’s words inspire new mission for family

ABC21 News at 5
Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 6:34 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - A Canterbury High School student left behind a letter that has created a new mission for his family hoping to inspire other kids not to be afraid.

Edie Runion remembers shopping with her son at Men’s Warehouse for a suit to wear at his eighth grade graduation. A photo filled with memories shows her smiling in the background, but today her heart in broken.

“That was the suit we had to bury him in and he looked just as handsome,” Runion said.

On September 25th of 2022, Orion Runion took his own life.

“It was a shock to everyone. We had no clue,” she said.

Runion says Orion left behind a letter no mother ever wants to read. She said it was a few sentences summing up what was the center of his pain.

“I didn’t want to accept that I was gay. I wanted to be normal and have a normal high school relationship. I didn’t choose to be gay, it just was how I am and I hated it. I still hate it. I just have this constant pang for love.”

Orion Runion's letter

Runion says she feels pain and guilt for her son.

“He was really scared, and he didn’t want anyone to know,” Runion said. “I feel guilty that I raised my son in church, I feel like maybe if I didn’t he wouldn’t have felt so ashamed to be who he was.”

She says she believes her son was afraid to tell the world who he was. He was afraid the world wouldn’t love him the same if they knew he was gay.

“My 15-year-old killed himself because he never felt loved,” she said.

Orion’s cousin, Derek Burton, says he was afraid once too. He says the letter reminded him of the same fear and pain he felt at that age about sharing his sexuality.

“I think it was hard for me because I felt it too,” Burton said. “This brought back a lot of my memories. But the difference is, I’m sitting here and Orion’s not.”

Burton says kids need to talk and feel safe to share to open up about their feelings.

“There are families who have lost kids and loved ones for the same reason,” he said.” The only reason we know is because Orion put it in writing, and I think he did it for a reason. He did it so we can spread his legacy.”

Runion says she believes there was a reason her son left that letter; to spread his legacy.

“As a mother, I always knew Orion would change the world. But I didn’t know this was how,” Runion said. “I’m in pain that he’s gone, but I’m also going to continue letting him change the world because other kids deserve that. Other kids feel this way because they don’t have someone to talk to.”

Runion says Canterbury High School has been supportive all along.

Debbie Parrot, a founding family of the school, says they’re starting a new mural to honor Orion’s life. She says it will be created by a local artist and the students at the school as a way to grieve.

Runion says she received dozens of letters from friends of Orion sharing how great he was after he passed. It’s just some comfort, as the family works to honor Orion’s memory by sharing his story.

If you know a young person in need, or are looking for resources about how to talk to your child, The Trevor Project can help. Click here for more.