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‘I will have those memories forever’: Solomon Thomas finds new purpose in sister’s honor

SANTA CLARA — One of Solomon Thomas’ most vivid memories of his late sister, Ella, came after tragedy struck.

When Thomas was in the seventh or eighth grade, Ella’s best friend’s brother died. In the aftermath, Ella approached Thomas, who is two years younger, and offered an important lesson.

“We will never know when our last day is,” Ella said. “I want us to make sure we take advantage of every day and be best friends and love each other as hard as we can for the rest of our lives.”

He has recently recalled those words as he grieved his own heartbreak: Ella’s death. On Jan. 23, Ella, 24, committed suicide after battling depression for several years.

“There are just some things that pushed her over the edge,” Thomas said after 49ers OTAs Wednesday. “I understand it to a point, but I also will never understand it. It hurts.”

Thomas and Ella were best friends. Their relationship strengthened in high school — ‘something just clicked,’ Thomas says — to the point where they finished each other’s sentences, watched movies together, and shared endless laughs.

Thomas admired Ella, who worked in the restaurant industry, for her empathy and energy.

“She always lit up a room,” Thomas said. “Her voice could make any crying baby smile.”

After Ella’s death, Thomas’ mother, Martha, had the idea of sharing Ella’s story to help raise awareness for depression and suicide. Thomas and his parents drew inspiration after reading Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love’s article on his own battle with depression.

Thomas has since found a new purpose, raising money for resources and encouraging others with similar issues to express their feelings and struggles — and to not feel embarrassment or guilt in the process. He says depression should be viewed like a treatable illness such as cancer.

“I think it’s big to let people know it’s OK to be sad,” Thomas said. “It’s OK to not feel perfect because there are so many things that happen in life— good, bad, stuff that you don’t know about, and it’s going to affect how you feel.”

With the help of about nine or 10 people, he said, Thomas has raised around $27,000 for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. On Saturday, he will walk 16 miles in the ‘Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk’ event in his home city of Dallas.

“There are so many people that suffer more than we all know,” Thomas said. “I am walking for them, I am walking for other people who have been affected by this, other people who are going through it. Mental health and suicide isn’t a thing people want to talk about.”

In recent months, Thomas has received outpouring love and support from his friends, 49ers teammates, front office executives, and media members. Last week, general manager John Lynch donated $5,000 to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

CEO Jed York, his sisters Jenna and Mara, kicker Robbie Gould, and defensive end Elvis Dumervil attended Ella’s funeral in Dallas.

“To see them at my sister’s funeral was insane,” Thomas said. “I felt so much love for them coming out. That meant the world to me and my family so deeply… I am really lucky to be a part of this organization. I felt the love.”

Thomas now pays tribute to his sister’s life with a purple wristband that reads, ‘Ella Elizabeth Thomas’ and ‘Jan. 23’ for the date she died. Last year, despite her internal struggles, Ella attended five or six 49ers games to support her younger brother, her best friend, who will now play in her honor.

“I will have those memories forever,” Thomas said.

Brad Almquist is KNBR’s 49ers beat writer. Follow him on Twitter @Bquist13.


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