HAWLEY, Minn. - Sept. 25, 2018, is a day tragedy struck the Bjorndahl family.

Katie Bjorndahl's father, Aaron Bjorndahl, called her first thing in the morning, but the call went straight to voicemail which was abnormal. He called Katie's mother Lisa Bjorndahl to see if she had heard from her. She had texted, but received no response. Her mother then called Katie's workplace, where they said they couldn't get a hold of her and she didn't call in for work.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

"I then called my husband and told him to go check on her in her townhome. We thought she may have been sick or something. We called ourselves the 'Tribe of Five' because we always were together or in touch, so her not responding wasn't normal," Lisa Bjorndahl said.

What Aaron Bjorndahl found when he entered Katie's townhome in West Fargo, N.D., changed everything.

He found Katie looking like she was asleep, but she had overdosed from a mixture of prescription and over the counter medication.

He called the paramedics and they were able to get a pulse from her. She was taken to Sanford Hospital.

"All the tests were done, the doctors did all they could do. They even cooled her body down, and warmed it back up slowly to give her the best chance for recovery. Nothing was changing. The doctor said she could only live on full life-support, so we sat down with him were given a choice," Lisa Bjorndahl said. "We considered it for a long time, but then we decided to say our goodbyes."

After four days in the intensive care unit, Katie Bjorndahl was taken off life-support Sept. 29.

Bjorndahl was a talented softball player who helped bring the North Dakota State College of Science Wildcats one of their best seasons in school history: A third place finish in the NJCAA Division III National Championship. She graduated with a liberal arts degree from the school.

It wasn't always easy for Bjorndahl, but on the outside she was the "all-American girl" as her mother described it.

"She had all the boxes checked except self-confidence. She hid it very well by making sure everyone else was OK and many told us how she had helped them through depression," Lisa Bjorndahl said.

The problem was that Katie suffered from depression herself. When Katie was 14, her best friend died in a house fire. Her grandmother became her new best friend. But she died when she was 18. Then her cousin also died when she was 18.

"In a small span of time, her family had three large deaths and she struggled with that. She never got over it, but only focused on other people. She hid everything and I had no clue she was even suicidal," Bjorndahl said.

But after everything that's happened, Lisa and Aaron Bjorndahl have started up Katie's Roar, a campaign to help spread awareness about mental health and suicide.

"We want to get the word out there to kids that you need one person in life to turn to. We really think this discussion of mental health needs to be part of a public education," Bjorndahl said. "It's no different than diabetes or any other disability. Mental health is taboo, and that needs to stop."

Katie's Roar is inspired by a tattoo she had that she designed herself. The lion was inspired by a the Bible verse Joshua 1:9, "This is my command-be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The Bjorndahl's are being strong and courageous and spreading the message.

"The end of her life will never define her and we will never allow that to define her. We will make something good come out of it," said Bjorndahl.

The Hawley community where Katie grew up has been supportive of the Bjorndahl's has provided a lot of support. According to Lisa Bjorndahl, they haven't had to cook dinner once since Katie's passing because community members have brought dinners nightly.

Kasin Farms, 4271 230th St. S., will host a chili feed for the Bjorndahl family at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16. The family will take donations and raise money through T-shirts and wristbands they sell. It is a 21-and-older event.

Proceeds will go toward and medical and funeral expenses and establishing a memorial scholarship given to a graduating softball player from Hawley High School.