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It is with profound sadness that the family of Athena Christine Demas announces her unexpected death May 24, 2020, in Butler, Md.

Born March 28, 1992, in Riverside, Calif., to a single mother, Trina Demas, she was raised to be independent, respectful, fun-loving, and to find joy in even the smallest things. She was born to excel and conquered life head on, especially school. Her zest for learning and reading was powerful, and she always had a book, or two, in hand.

Like many young girls, she fell in love with horses at an early age and by age 11 she began competing in horse shows. Her family traveled up and down the East Coast, proudly watching her compete, bringing home trophies and ribbons. The horse barn was her second home and her attentive care to every horse was a source of comfort and strength.

She graduated from Brevard High School in the top 10 of her class with a GPA of 4.25. She was vice-president of the student body, editor-in-chief of the school newspaper (The Broadcaster), an officer in The Future Business Leaders of America, The Future Farmers of America, the French Club and she tried out to be the first female member of the BHS Rifle Team. She was proficient in French and with an energetic desire to learn more about her heritage, she was able to read and speak some Greek. She was a Junior Marshall and a Transylvania Scholar.

She enrolled at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Va. on a full scholarship. She was an active member of the award winning equestrian team that competed against other colleges all over the East Coast. She was the recipient of the Appalachian College Association Colonel Lee B. Ledford Scholarship for Student Research and used that grant money to research the changing roles of forest rangers in both the United States and the North Carolina Forest Services. “The magnitude of this research project is rare for undergraduates and serves to benefit all who have a keen interest in North Carolina’s forest heritage.” She presented her research paper at the 2012 Appalachian College Association Student Summit in Knoxville, Tenn.

Unfortunately, Virginia Intermont fell victim to a lagging economy that closed many small colleges, so in the middle of her senior year she transferred to Emory and Henry College. She graduated summa cum laude with dual degrees in Political Science and History.

After college graduation, she followed her bliss and became a professional horseback rider. She was an accomplished hunter/jumper, gave riding lessons to adults and children, and worked as a groom. She warmed up horses for competition, showed her own horses and horses belonging to others, and completely immersed herself in the equestrian world. Her articles and photos were published in “The Chronicle of the Horse” and “Eventing Nation.” She sometimes supplemented her income by substitute teaching history in local high schools.

The onset of Covid and subsequent lockdown of our country meant that she was without work and had no means to get home, as most gas stations and rest stops were closed. The sense of despair and isolation became an all consuming dark hole. On a sunny Sunday morning, she ended her life, like too many before and after her. She was only 28 years old.

She left behind her loving mother, Trina; her devoted brother, Austin; and her doting grandparents, Lawrence and Barbara Demas. They have learned to live with the fact that some questions will never be answered. They love and miss her every single day and long to see her megawatt smile just one more time. She also leaves behind extended family and friends across the country.

A celebration of her life was held in June of 2020, and despite the stringent regulations of the time, it was well attended by many who knew her and love her still.

A note from Athena’s mother:

This was a writing assignment that no parent should ever have to undertake. I have been painfully aware of the teenage suicides in our community and around our country, and my heart breaks for these parents who now bear the same life sentence I do. I am writing openly of my beloved daughter’s suicide as a way to remove the stigma so many people feel when speaking of depression, a sense of hopelessness, and death at one’s own hand. We did not see this coming. We did not have a clue and were as shocked by our own loss as we have been saddened and shocked by the loss felt in too many families.

If you are feeling any inclination to end your life, please tell someone. Walk into a church and ask for the pastor. Talk to a trusted teacher or family member. Don’t be ashamed of your feelings. You are not alone. People you don’t even know care deeply that you remain alive. Whatever is causing you to feel this way will not last forever, even if it feels like it will. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary situation. My dear daughter had everything to live for, and yet she could not see beyond her immediate pain.

If you are told by someone that they are thinking of ending their life, take it seriously. Be present for them. Reach out and offer them a safe place to be with their fears and feelings. You can save a life.

Help and guidance are available through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Their North Carolina chapter is called The Circle of Hope and you can find them online. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

God bless you and keep you safe.

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