He sang softly, but his rich, country-style voice filled the gymnasium, putting an eerie halt to all other sounds as his sorrow-made music washed over the audience.
About 700 high school students went silent as Dennis Lockwood sat in a folding chair playing his acoustic guitar and singing a song he wrote specifically for them.
"So hold me tight. Take me through the darkness of the night," he sang. "Hold me tight. Tell me what is it I need to know to shine a light."
The Laguna Beach resident sang and was one of two speakers at an assembly Friday at Ocean View High School's Yellow Ribbon Week, a national campaign to educate students about suicide prevention.
Banners displaying teenage suicide facts and statistics greeted students throughout the week while they discussed the issue in class and participated in lunchtime events about suicide education, said Nancy Steiner, community resource coordinator.
For Lockwood, suicide isn't just an issue or a statistic, but a tragedy that rocked his family when his 24-year-old son took his life less than five years ago. Although not a professional speaker, he said he wanted to share with the students how music saved him and urge them to find something they can channel their feelings into.
"For those struggling, I suggest you find something in yourself that you love," he said.
While many teenagers don't have suicidal feelings, it also isn't abnormal, said Tim Baker, the school psychologist.
Baker said when he first came to the school, he was concerned Yellow Ribbon Week was putting suicidal thoughts into the students, but he learned they were already having them. The week was just allowing them to express those feelings in a safe way.
"It's so prevalent," he said. "All [Yellow Ribbon Week] is doing is getting these kids to open up about it."
Annette Craig, the founder of With Hope, stressed to students the importance of telling a trusted adult if they or their friends are having suicidal thoughts. Craig started her memorial foundation in honor of her 14-year-old daughter, who took her own life about five years ago.
After Craig's daughter shot herself, three of her friends came forward to say they had known she was thinking about it, she said. Craig said she doesn't want anyone else to have to wonder what would have happened if they had spoken up.
"Better to have them alive and mad at you then dead," she said.
Although it dealt with a serious subject matter, this year's assembly was meant to be more educational and uplifting than sad and depressing, said Kevin Fairman, the school's activities director.
The idea is for students to talk about feeling like they can handle the situation and have opinions, he said.
Fairman, who struggled with suicidal feelings in his early 20s and had his father take his own life only two years later, brought the program to Ocean View seven years ago.
Fairman said suicides are increasing, but education in school is not. The issue is just as important to talk about with teens as drinking and driving, drug abuse and pregnancy, which is why he has been reaching out to other schools to implement a similar program.
"I tried to get other schools to do it and some have thought about it, but they're afraid," he said. "It's a taboo topic, so they're afraid."
For senior Rebecca Blythe, 17, the topic hit home and brought tears to her eyes reminding her of a family friend who committed suicide when she was in elementary school.
Talking about suicide this week has helped other students speak up about the issue, some even going to Rebecca for advice, she said.
"I think this definitely helps people that don't know," she said.
Warning signs of suicide
•Talking reading, or writing about suicide or death
Talking about feeling worthless or helpless
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Giving possessions away or returning borrowed items
Obsession with guns or knives
A history of suicidal thoughts or attempts
Saying phrases like "I shouldn't have been born," or "I wish I were dead."
For help call the Orange County suicide hotline: (714) 639-4673