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Carl Love: Two years after Murrieta teen’s suicide, friends help youths choose life

By in Press Enterprise on December 2, 2017

By Carl Love

It’s been more than two years since Diego Villarreal died.

Yet his tutor, Michelle McCarthy, still gets choked up talking about him.

“As an educator you’re supposed to save kids,” McCarthy said. “’He didn’t give me the opportunity.”

Murrieta Valley High School student Diego Villarreal committed suicide more two years ago. Now a group called Project 99, named for his old football jersey number, is staging fundraising run on Saturday, Dec. 9.

Villarreal was preparing for his junior year at Murrieta Valley High School when — for unknown reasons — he took his own life. He was a football player, wearing No. 99. Colleges were recruiting him to play.

Those closest to Villarreal continue to be impacted.

They have started a nonprofit organization, Project 99, to raise money and run a speaker’s group that, according to the group’s website, wants to educate teens “about the negative consequences of suicide and to show students how one choice can devastate an entire community.”

The group is hosting a 5K fundraising run Saturday, Dec. 9, – on what would have been Villarreal’s 19th birthday — starting at 715 a.m. at Murrieta Town Square. The event is called “Lights for Life 5K: Bringing Suicide Out of the Dark.” The website, www.Project99.org has more details.

The speakers group has talked to students at all three Murrieta high schools, Corona’s Santiago High and Temecula Preparatory School. Speakers have included McCarthy, a Murrieta teacher; Kaylee Williams, a college student who was student president of the Students Against Destructive Decisions group at Murrieta Valley when Villarreal died; elementary school counselor Tamara Dewey; and Ed Villarreal, the late young man’s father.

Ed Villarreal said he thinks of his son constantly.

He said there’s no way Diego knew the impact his death would continue to have on his family, friends and football teammates. […]    

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