Healthy Impressions

Turning tragedy into hope

Written by James Combs

Eustis businessman Joe Ziler is raising awareness about suicide.

Nonchalant references to death have a way of irritating Joe Ziler.

Like when a Facebook user posts an emoticon with a gun to its head. Or when someone says, “Just shoot me” or “Somebody put me out of my misery.”

His sensitivity stems from experiencing the devastating effects
of suicide: the shock, the traumatic aftermath, and the mixed emotions. Six years ago, his brother, Mike Ziler, died from a self-inflicted gunshot
wound. He was only 41 and left behind a 17-year-old daughter, Kara Jo.

In Joe’s mind, suicide should no longer be seen as a taboo subject but rather one that is openly discussed and understood for what it really is: a serious public health problem.

Joe, owner of Kevco Builders in Eustis, is doing his part to create awareness. Five billboards along U.S. Highway 441 that he formerly used to advertise his company now feature attention-grabbing messages about suicide, such as: “You thought I would be better off without you…I’m not … Love, your daughter, Kara Jo.” Accompanying the text is a photograph of Mike with his arm around a very young Kara Jo, as well as numbers to call or text for help.

Kara Jo assisted Joe in coming up with ideas for the billboards, which will remain on display through December. So far, their message has been wellreceived. After posting pictures of his billboards on four different Facebook pages, Joe garnered 2,700 interactions and 1,400 shares in three weeks.

“When someone is considering suicide, I’m hoping that seeing these billboards will interrupt their negative thought process and bring them to an even keel of reality,” Joe says. “Hopefully, these billboards will help them think rationally and realize there is help.”

Joe has also spoken about the subject in several public venues, including LifeStream Behavioral Center’s Gala of Hope. He openly talks about the changing emotions that survivors experience, and for him, anger did not occur until years after his brother’s death.

“I started getting mad after thinking what he did to his daughter,” he says. “She graduated high school without her dad, she graduated college without her dad, she bought her first home without her dad. And eventually, she’ll have her first child without her dad. With every milestone in life, she’ll have to relive those emotions without him being there.”

About the author

James Combs

Akers Media Group's James Combs has been a staff writer for several local publications since August 2000. He has had the privilege of interviewing some of Lake County’s many fascinating residents—from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans—and bringing their stories to life. A resident of Lake County since 1986, James recently embarked on a journey to lead a healthier lifestyle. He has lost 60 pounds and walks nearly five miles a day. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, skeet shooting and watching his beloved Kentucky Wildcats!

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