What looks like a Halloween display in a Canton front yard is actually a powerful, symbolic message meant to bring awareness to the alarming number of suicides among veterans.
Twenty-two Styrofoam and spray-painted tombstones stand along a shaded lawn on Colonial Boulevard NE.
The man behind the markers, 36-year-old Bryan Bowman, choose to erect 22 tombstones because statistics show 22 veterans take their own lives every day.
"It's alarming that the rates are increasing even though there's more of a focus on assisting the veterans," Bowman said.
Bowman, who serves in the Army National Guard, also posted a veterans suicide helpline, 1-800-273-8255 on one of the markers. He also reminds veterans of several local options for therapy.
"This was just a matter of awareness. Get help," he said.
Bowman, who also does veterans outreach work for Congressman Jim Renacci, has worked with local families who have lost veterans to suicide within the last year.
"One had three daughters and a son in the Massillon area. Another one, towards the Ravenna area, had four daughters," he recalled.
Bowman posted his display on Facebook and it has been shared by thousands, he said.
A woman from Virginia requested 22 tombstones for her yard because her Army son committed suicide last year. Bowman planned to spray-paint and ship a set to her.
"She lost her son and it's a way that she can spread awareness," he said.
Bowman said many people are stopping, staring and talking about his display and he brushes off any criticism that a Halloween-like display is inappropriate, given the serious subject.
"I feel it's more the perfect time because of the fact that it is an outreach thing, where people see it as a display and then read it," Bowman said.