-Warning! This page contains photographs and descriptions of items taken from the scene of Ryan’s death as a testament to the severity of the disease at hand.
Born October 22, 1993, Ryan James Cummins was my youngest and only sibling. As children, I remember him following me into every bit of trouble and adventure our young minds could think up. Though Ryan always seemed to get the brunt of all of my “genius” ideas, he still followed me with the utmost confidence. When I was around the age of seven, I recall asking Ryan to get into one of those large plastic Fischer Price cars so I could drive him up and down the grassy hills of our backyard. At the top of the hill, I decided to push him down at top speed with no consideration of the five-foot wall dropping off at the bottom. As he soared down the hill and off the ledge, the final things I could remember were the shrieks of my father from our deck and, to my surprise, the hilarity of Ryan’s voice upside down in a set of bushes. Though I regret using my brother as a crash test dummy, I will never forget hearing his laughter as the end result of a potential tragedy.
As we grew older and into our teenage years, we both began to develop our own perspectives on life and grew apart as we made new friends and pursued different interests. As I entered my junior year of high school, Ryan had just entered the eighth grade, which he later referred to as “the prime of his life.” He had grown to 5’8” at the start of the year and his stature towered over the majority of his class. I remember how many people looked up to him that year both literally and figuratively, for Ryan carried himself with a sense of philosophical wit that could challenge even the brightest of minds. He became active in football and track and became interested in the world of electronics. At the age of 14, Ryan successfully built a computer from scratch and was the only one in our family who was technologically literate; in fact, his idea of a light read at the age of 15 was a textbook he purchased on basic computer programming. It simply amazed me how quickly Ryan could be presented with a problem, analyze it, and solve it.
By the time Ryan reached his sophomore year of high school, he became an active trumpet player in the jazz, symphonic, and marching bands. He also joined the cross country team and elected to take several advanced placement courses to put his brain to a healthy test; however, this bright period was sadly the start of the inevitable. By April of his sophomore year, Ryan began actively expressing feelings of anxiety and gloom. He would contrast this new mental state with the way he used to feel in middle school- the so called “prime of his life.” Though Ryan still stayed focused on his social life and schoolwork, he was actively pursuing ways to remedy his negative emotions. He started altering his diet by measuring portion sizes and cutting back on “unhealthy” foods; however, after going from 130 pounds to 110 pounds over a month and a half, our family knew that this “diet” was no more than starvation. Following his weight loss, he agreed to receive psychiatric help. Following his evaluation, he was started on Zoloft and by late fall of his junior year, Ryan had nearly regained the weight he had previously lost, yet his mind continued to deteriorate. He had stopped taking Zoloft, went on Effexor, PRN (as needed) Vistaril for anxiety, and taking a combination of herbal and synthetic supplements. In the winter of 2011, Ryan had made the first attempt to take his life after drinking ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) and taking a slew of over the counter pain relievers. Following his attempt, he immediately threw up the medication and voluntarily admitted himself to Western Psychiatric Hospital of Pittsburgh. During his admission, Ryan was loaded with a higher dose of Effexor and discharged three weeks later. He remained on the new dosage until about the fall of his senior year when his psychiatrist believed Ryan may be suffering from Bipolar disorder. He was treated with Lithium carbonate and Pristiq (anti-depressant). After six months of being on the medications, Ryan had voiced that he was feeling worse than ever before. He said his thoughts were becoming foggy and he was unable to concentrate. Again, the medication regime was discontinued, and upon graduating from high school in the spring of 2012, Ryan refused to take any more prescription drugs.
Ryan James Cummins
In the fall of 2012, Ryan attended the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg free from prescription medications as he pursued a degree in software engineering. During move-in day, my parents and I were a little worried on how Ryan would adapt to this new stage in his life, but he did so with little difficulty, or so we thought. He pulled A’s and B’s in all of his classes, found a wonderful girl, and tried to surround himself with positive energy to outweigh the negative feelings that had simply become a part of his everyday life. In his second semester at school, he went to his psychiatrist unable to focus. With another diagnose of Attention Deficit disorder (ADD) on the table, Ryan was placed on two amphetamine class drugs: Adderall and Vyvanse. In the fall of 2013, Ryan transferred to the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus and commuted to class from home; however, it was not soon after he started that the pain returned. The disease was driving him mad. He told me, “I feel burned out. I can’t concentrate and retain any information like I used to. I can do the work, but it means nothing to me and I am tired of the medications. They only temporarily numb this feeling and it always comes back worse than before.” He tapered off the amphetamines, switched his major from engineering to information sciences, and got a job at a local electronics store. For the days to follow, Ryan appeared to be zeroing in on his school work and job. He would keep to himself and spend hours a night trying to focus. I can remember coming home from work to see him sleeping in his work clothes on our basement couch with his course materials close by. In his final months, I rarely saw him smile, become angry, or even sad. He simply existed in a world he felt little purpose in.
On the evening of November 7,2013, I had just arrived home at 8:00PM from a 12 hour shift at the hospital. Nearly passed out on the couch after the long day, I remember seeing Ryan walk into our living room with the same flat expression on his face I had learned to accept. Not really knowing what to say, I cracked a joke in hopes that it would lighten his mood. He took one look at me, rolled his eyes and walked away; this was the last time I saw my brother. After our encounter, Ryan asked my parents if he could use the car to meet up with some students from the university in order to work on a group project. Following the project, he indicated that he was going to a party and would not be home until the following day. This was typical for Ryan to do; however, he would always keep in touch with his family and friends when going out for an extended period of time. When the morning of November eighth came around, neither my parents nor I had heard from Ryan, but we assumed he was away from his phone or sleeping from the night before. It was not until roughly 2:00PM on Friday that my parents began to worry. Trying to get a lead on his whereabouts, my mother contacted Ryan’s girlfriend to see if she had heard from him. Apparently Ryan was supposed to go up to see her at school Friday afternoon, but he had not shown up or responded to any of her recent messages — worry had now turned to panic. As I left work at 7:30PM, I was unaware that my family was in crisis. My mother had texted me a few hours earlier to see if I had heard from my brother, but I had not. On the ride home, I made several attempts to call Ryan, but his phone just kept ringing. I thought, “Is he ignoring our calls? Did he just drop his phone or is he in desperate need?” Before thinking the worst, I first wanted to get home and gather all the facts. As I stepped through the door at 8:00PM, my parents and the parents of Ryan’s close friend were gathered in the living room. They informed me that the police were now involved, and it was only going to be a few hours before his photograph would be shown on the evening news.
Ryan’s photograph run across the news
For the next two hours, I sat on the same couch from where I last saw Ryan, anticipating him to stroll through the front door. As each minute passed, the pit in my stomach became deeper and my mind raced as I tried to think of ways to bring him home. I asked myself, “What if I didn’t make that joke? What if I talked to him for a few extra minutes yesterday? Would he still be here?” At 10:00PM his photo came across the television and without a minute to spare, I got back into my car and began a search of my own. I went to his favorite coffee shop and various places Ryan liked to walk to relieve some stress; however, every destination I could think of was a dead end. By midnight on November 9th, it was impossible for me not to think the worst. Instead of searching for Ryan in places he may want to go to relieve stress, I began searching in places he may want to end his life. I looked under bridges and in parking lots hoping I would find him, but deep down praying that I would not. As 2:00AM rolled around, the final place I looked for Ryan was in the parking lot of our church in Dormont. “Maybe, just maybe, he was looking for spiritual guidance,” I thought; however, after driving to the church with high hopes, I ended my night at 3:00AM still unable to find him.
I can remember crawling into bed feeling like a failure for not finding Ryan, but this failure gave me a glimmer of hope. I believed that his cunningness and wit were keeping him safe somewhere that nobody had thought to look. With this sense of comfort at hand, I was able to fall asleep only to be awoken two hours later by the screams of my parents. I ran down the stairs to the sight of my father staring off in the distance and my mother crying on the bottom of the steps. An officer from our borough had come to tell us that Ryan was found dead in a church parking lot inside the car he drove the night before. He had taken his life by mixing together two household chemicals in the enclosed vehicle to produce the volatile gas hydrogen sulfide – a substance so deadly that it could have harmed even those trying to save him. However, even in the end, Ryan’s selfless attitude was still looking out for those around him. He posted notes on all of the car windows to warn those who would find him to stay away for their own safety.
One of 3 warning signs posted on the car windows
A rescue team works to open the vehicle
With only the images of my brother’s final moments ingrained into my mind, my emotions were that of sadness, rage, and despair. Ryan had so much talent and was always putting others in front of himself. Even in his darkest moments, he believed that there was always someone out there who could use a bit of guidance. Seeing the potential in those he surrounded came to him more naturally than the way he envisioned himself. How can somebody have the capacity to make so many positive impacts on so many lives without having a clue on the basic fundamentals of his own existence? It did not make any sense to me and I fear that it never will. Although I may never know what compelled Ryan to succeed in his final act, I gained solace in an object found in his possessions from the car. In the front photo pocket of his wallet rested a small card with a quote by Mahatma Gandhi. It was not a quote about the anguish in his life or even an answer to the “whys.” On that card was a wish never answered — a light that reminded me what Ryan and those like him were fighting for.
The Card from Ryan’s Wallet