It was early April 2012 day near Roswell, Ga., and Keller Zibilich, LOUISIANA STATE 2015, was doing what he loved most, enjoying white water sports out on the Ocoee River with some of his friends. Keller always held the outdoors close to his heart, and kayaking and canoeing were some of his favorite activities.
Keller was a likable young man. He was very confident, intelligent, and had remarkable judgment despite being of a younger age. Keller pledged the Gamma Iota Chapter of Sigma Chi in August 2011 and was president of his pledge class because of his seemingly natural ability to lead others. He wore on his chest the White Cross of Sigma Chi with great pride, and he displayed his Fraternity’s values just as brilliantly.
“Keller was a remarkable young man,” says his father, Michael Zibilich, GEORGIA STATE 1970. “Everyone loved him. He was always the go-to guy. He stood firm in times of trouble, and said "Lean on Me.” He exhibited responsibility and initiative in all matters and was a parental dream."
"He was a man of courage and character who could brighten any room with his smile, warm any heart and bring confidence, joy, and love to all he knew,” says Keller’s mother, Gayle.
About three weeks after sharing laughs on the white water river Keller cherished so dearly, on April 21, 2012, the young, charismatic young man with a bright future and big dreams ended his life in his dorm room, without giving any reason. Until the day before his death Keller, had never manifested depression or any sign of mental distress.
Shortly before he took his own life, he was a couple doors down in the room of two of his friends, cordially talking about issues in their lives. But that was always Keller, putting others first and always helping or finding a way to solve a problem. Many fellow students referred to him as the "Rock".
When Michael Zibilich looks back on the 19 years, 2 months he shared with his son, the idea of having a talk about suicide with him seemed inconceivable to absolutely anyone who knew him, especially his parents.
“If we were to sit down with him at the kitchen table and say, ‘Dad’s got one more thing to talk to you about.’ He would look at me with those eyes and say, ‘What dad?” Michael says with a laugh. “Any discussion of suicide would have left Keller mystified and thinking, that I had temporarily lost my senses.”
In Keller’s honor, and in recognition of the other young men of Sigma Chi who have fallen recently to this most tragic circumstance, it is Michael's goal to help other brothers who may be affected by similar pressures. Michael, who was initiated into Sigma Chi as a non-student initiate in November 2013, says that he thinks his son who was uncharacteristically and temporally overwhelmed by life and just needed someone to trust and reach out to.
“Just like in whitewater sports, we have a term that is used in dire circumstances, and unfortunately it relates to what happened to our son. That term is ‘I need a lifeline,’” Michael says. “You call for the rope if you separated from your boat and in dangerous water. It must be remembered that even highly competent boaters have rescue support available.”
One of the hardest parts to grasp for Michael is that Keller did reach out. According to Michael, in the frantic minutes before his death, Keller made five emergency calls and none provided the help he needed. It is ironic and most importantly tragic, that in most instances parents do not receive that call no matter how close their relationship is with their child.
“We are so very thankful that Sigma Chi through Sigma Chi Lifeline has partnered with the Jed Foundation because at the end of the day, even the strongest boater or individual may need that lifeline,” Michael says. “The message is getting people to understand that life at critical times can be overwhelming, and these problems – whether they are relationship, financial, or any nature – can seem monstrous when one is under extreme stress. They can be Mount Everest. It is essential that people understand that there is a designated and safe place to go in times of despair.”
Sigma Chi Lifeline is that resource where members can seek help, and Michael thinks this could be the key to rescuing other Sigma Chi brothers having the same feelings that Keller experienced.
“If you are not comfortable talking about mental health with your suite mate or roommate at the chapter house, there is a place they can reach out to and get that one moment of help," Michael says of Sigma Chi Lifeline. “That can make the difference between life and death.”