Family, friends and teammates of Langley Rams running back Samwel Uko have expressed shock and grief at his sudden death at the age of 20, the apparent result of mental health issues.
Uko was visiting family in Regina, when he was discovered dead in Wascana Lake, a few hours after he had sought help at a hospital on May 21st.
A video posted to social media shows Uko repeatedly asking for assistance while at the hospital, saying “I need help” over and over.
Uko’s family has confirmed that he was struggling with mental health issues on the night he died.
Family members said they drove Uko to the hospital, but were unable to remain with him because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Sometime later that same evening, Regina Police Service officers were called to the lake to investigate a report of someone swimming.
“Further investigation discovered some clothing and a cell phone on the shore near the spot where the male entered the water,” the report related.
Further searching by the Regina Fire Department and the Provincial Capital Commission, as well as the Regina Police Service Underwater Investigation and Recovery team, “resulted in the discovery of an unresponsive, adult male under the water.”
It was Uko.
News of his death has shaken the Langley Rams team.
Head coach Howie Zaron said Uko, who was entering his second season with the Rams, will be remembered as a promising athlete who had a ready smile.
“He had a lot of moves,” Zaron told the Langley Advance Times.
“He was a super nice kid.”
Zaron went online to express his anger about the way Uko was dealt with at the Regina hospital.
”Samwel Uko begs for help and is denied that help and later takes his life,” Zaron wrote.
“When someone is asking for help, sorry, begging for help, you help. I don’t give a ____ if we are in the middle of a pandemic or not, this system failed this young man and now we have lost him forever.”
With heavy hearts we mourn the loss of Samwel Uko. Samwel was entering his second season with the Rams and will always be remembered by his smile that could brighten up any room and by how much he meant to his teammates.
Rest In Peace, Samwel you will never be forgotten pic.twitter.com/BuaDdnGPXj
— Langley Rams (@LangleyRams) May 22, 2020
Uko’s death is being investigated by the Saskatchewan Coroners Service and Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).
“We are investigating the video fully to determine where and when it may have been taken and the circumstances surrounding it, and will work with other agencies as needed to ensure this is fully reviewed,” stated Lisa Thomson of SHA. “Until such time as we are able to finish our investigation we are not able to determine what occurred.”
Thomson expressed condolences to the family and friends of Uko.
“It is heartbreaking to see this young man’s distress, and we would invite his family members to reach out to our patient advocate services if they feel there is any assistance we may be able to directly provide at 1-866-411-7272,” she told Black Press Media.
Uko, who came to Canada at the age of five from the African nation of South Sudan, played minor football for the Abbotsford Falcons before starring on both the Abbotsford Panthers junior and senior varsity football teams.
He helped the juniors win a provincial title in Grade 10 and led the seniors to the AA provincial final in Grade 12. He was also named both the offensive most valuable player and the conference MVP in Grade 12.
Uko played one year with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and most recently played a season with the Langley Rams of the Canadian Junior Football League.
A GoFundMe account for the Uko family was created May 22 and has nearly doubled its initial goal of $6,000.
A petition by a family friend to increase mental-health services in Uko’s honour was also launched, and it has so far attracted over 3,300 signatures.
Organizer Lual Akol said those who admit themselves to hospitals as a last resort when combating severe mental health issues “are often faced with professionals in a system that questions the legitimacy of their problems and is not equipped to provide appropriate care.”
“From a community who has seen multiple young people taking their lives after interacting with medical staff we are asking the government to include counselling and mental health services as part of our medical system.”
– with files from Ben Lypka, Black Press
If you feel like you are in crisis or are considering suicide, please call the Crisis Centre BC suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433.
Some warning signs include suicidal thoughts, anger, recklessness, mood changes, anxiety, lack of purpose, helplessness and substance use.
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