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Freeman community, neighbors rallying around Balvin, family in wake of FHS junior’s Oct. 18 attempt to take his own life 

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    This photo of students from Menno High School gathered in prayer was posted on Facebook Friday afternoon, Oct. 18 following the early-morning incident that sent Freeman High School junior Ty Balvin to Avera Health, where he remained in critical condition Tuesday afternoon.

Tina Sayler and those closest to her middle son, Ty Balvin, are feeling nothing but love and support from across the region following Ty’s suicide attempt on a rural gravel road late last week.

Balvin, a junior at Freeman Public, was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head about a mile northeast of Fensel’s Corner early Friday morning, Oct. 18. 

Freeman Police Chief Kirk McCormick said he was contacted by Sayler around 12:30 a.m. out of concern for the whereabouts of her son, whose phone was then pinged by 911 dispatch. McCormick said that he arrived on the scene a short time later, and that Balvin’s friends who had been searching for him were already there. 

Balvin was airlifted to Avera Health in Sioux Falls that night, where he remained in critical condition earlier this week.

“They say it takes a village,” an emotional Sayler said in a phone interview with the Courier early Monday afternoon. “Let me tell you; Ty’s got a big village.”

Read the Publisher's Column, #tystrong

The first indication that the outpouring would be so strong came Friday morning, after she had been with her son and was told there were as many as 75 people in the waiting room at Avera — classmates, parents and friends from Freeman, as well as members of the Canistota/Freeman Pride football team, on which Balvin has played on both the offensive and defensive line.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

A Go Fund Me Account was established by Freeman senior Emmarie Edwards with a goal of raising $5,000 to help with medical expenses. 

Clayton Smith played in Balvin’s home football jersey, No. 34, Friday night while an injured Bailey Sage donned Balvin’s white road jersey as he watched from the sidelines.

A video posted on Facebook Saturday afternoon shows friends helping with the harvest and students gathered on a gravel road, while another posted Monday morning shows students standing hand in hand around the perimeter of the Freeman High School gym with the words, “All praying for you Ty. We ALL love you.”

But the support has extended beyond Freeman. Sayler notes it has come from Canistota, Marion and Menno, as well, and mentions specifically a photo posted on Facebook by Menno junior Brady Fergen Friday afternoon. It shows Menno students standing together in prayer, hand in hand in the shape of a heart, with the following words: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for you are my praise. – Jeremiah 17:14. All of us here in Menno are keeping all of Freeman in our prayers today.” 

There have been hand-made signs of support, comfort by counselors and pastors, photos of Ty posted that Tina herself has never seen, and the hashtag #tystrong has been making the rounds on social media.

“For us to be implants here, and not be from Freeman, I never could have imagined we would ever get this kind of support,” said Sayler, who moved to Freeman with her three sons in 2008 and married Mike Sayler. “It’s been amazing.”


At Freeman Public, the response has been deliberate and organized. 

Kunz said he was made aware of the situation in the overnight hours of early Friday morning and began making phone calls to others in leadership at Freeman Public. Kunz met with guidance counselor Josh Faulkner and dean of students Will Massey, and then called a staff meeting, before school started that day.

“I don’t know that there’s any black and white manual that says exactly how you’re supposed to deal with something like this,” Kunz told the Courier. “Obviously this is a terrible, terrible thing that happened, but in the interest of all the kids, you try to keep the routine as normal as possible. That’s obviously easier said than done.”

Staff members were told on Friday to try to proceed with the day as planned, but also were encouraged to talk about it.

“If they had a student who was having a hard time, or felt like they needed to talk to somebody, they were told to feel free to let them go find Mr. Faulkner to work on a plan to address that,” Kunz said. “Our goal was to keep everything as normal as possible, but also let kids know that we would do anything we could to try to help them if need be.”

Kunz said while the needs of the students were certainly on the staffs’ minds on Friday, that wasn’t the day they were most concerned with “because the majority of the kids who were closest to the situation were already up in Sioux Falls showing support.

“Monday was the day that we were most concerned about,” he continued, “because a lot of those kids would be coming back to school for the first time and probably still trying to come to terms with what happened.”

Students in grades 7-12 met in the gym at 8:15 a.m. Monday to hear from Kunz, who brought them up to speed on Balvin’s condition and the resources the district was making available — additional counselors and pastors from the area who were also present first thing Monday. 

Those resources will continue to be available. 

“What we have been trying to emphasize is that everybody processes issues like this in a different way, but we encourage students to talk to somebody, whether they think they need to or not,” Kunz said. “That’s the best way for you to be able to help yourself.” 


Sayler said Monday that her son is by no means out of the woods, but that he was still alive was a miracle; he was not expected to survive that initial surgery Friday morning, she said.

Balvin is expected to be sedated for the foreseeable future because of the extreme pain and swelling in his brain. If he survives, the injuries will have significant impact on his speech, movement, memory and personality, Sayler said. Plastic surgery, therapy and rehabilitation will be his reality.

But that’s what she’s holding on to, choosing to be positive during this difficult and uncertain time.

“Keep praying,” she said. “Keep the village going.”

And, Sayler adds, “If there’s another kid in trouble, just be there. Take care of everybody.”