Natrona County Coroner Says Suicide Rate An Astronomical ‘Top Four In The World’

The Natrona County coroner says 2024 is shaping up to be a “crazy year” for unnatural deaths, with suicides through the first four months of the year on a record-shattering pace that ranks in the "top four in the world."

Dale Killingbeck

May 08, 20245 min read

Highland Cemetery in Casper.
Highland Cemetery in Casper. (City of Casper)

CASPER — The Natrona County coroner says 2024 is shaping up to be a “crazy year” for unnatural deaths, with suicides through the first four months of the year on a record-shattering pace.

Coroner Jim Whipps told county commissioners Tuesday that the instances of unnatural deaths in the county “is going way up.”

“This has been a different kind of year,” he said. “It kind of started last fall, but case count is going way up on unnatural deaths.”

He characterized overdose deaths especially, “primarily with illicit drugs as going through the roof.”

And he said the county’s suicide rate is “on pace for another record year in this county.”

“So far this year we are sitting on 12 in four months,” Whipps said of Natrona County suicides. “If you extrapolate that out, that is like 36 to 40 suicides that I can expect this year. Our record setter for this county was a couple years ago at 32 or 33.”

Suicide ‘Huge Problem’

Whipps, who is part of the Natrona County Suicide Prevention Task Force, said suicide remains a “huge problem” in the county, which by percentage of population is one of the worst in the state.

“Our county suicide rate by percentage of population is within the top realm, top four in the world,” he said. “Even third-world countries and places in total chaos don’t have the suicide rate that we have in this county in the middle of Wyoming.”

In his five years as coroner, Whipps said he has investigated eight adolescent suicides, none so far this year. But he said there have been suicides this year of young people in their 20s and 30s.

“It’s like I was telling the school board when I look at these kids in their 20s and 30s, I can almost always pinpoint that a big part of their problem that led to that suicide started in their adolescent years,” he said.

On April 8, Whipps addressed the Natrona County School Board of Trustees during the public comment period and asked them to do something “now” to implement programs that would help students cope with the challenges they face.

“I got to tell you from the outside looking in, it looks as though there is a lot of turning the heads, hiding the heads in the sand, passing the buck, and dragging the feet from school district, the board,” he told the school board. “I am willing to make myself available (to) assist. … Something needs to be done now, not five years from now, something needs to be done now.”

County Commission Chairman Peter Nicolaysen thanked Whipps on Tuesday for going to the school board and raising the issue of youth suicide.

“I personally would say keep up the effort and the pressure,” he said.

Need For Coping Skills

Nicolaysen referenced the recent stabbing death of 14-year-old Bobby Maher at the Casper mall, suicides and a growing culture of violence. He said commissioners have met with various agencies and then asked Whipps what role the county could play on suicides or the culture issue.

Whipps said he sees the issue as with the schools who need pressure to act and a second issue with parenting and doing something for “latch key” kids who are left to themselves and are getting into trouble.

Whipps told commissioners there needs to be education programs in place at schools to help kids with suicidal ideation to learn coping and resiliency skills.

“That seems to be lost, teaching our kids how to handle life,” he said, adding that schools also need to be more involved in dealing with the issues of bullying and other factors associated with the culture of violence.

Unclaimed Bodies

Meanwhile, Whipps told county commissioners that his office continues to deal with unclaimed bodies.

“Right now, I am sitting on this fiscal year, since last July, 24 (remains),” he said. “I am still in the process of a couple and we still have another month and a half so we could be looking at 30 unclaimed bodies, which is about twice as many as we have had in the past.”

Whipps said the issues often involved family estrangement or families who can’t come up with the money to bury a loved one. He said he has been able to return cremains to 15 families from the 38 he has had to deal with that have been stored at his office over the past few years.

Commissioners earlier this year agreed to take over their role in the financing of unclaimed remains that are not under the authority of the coroner’s office. They also agreed there would be no financial obligation for families to get their loved ones back whose cremains were stored in the coroner’s office.

Whipps said at least 18 cremains will need to go to the columbarium in the process of being purchased by the county. It will be placed in Highland Cemetery.

“The good news is we are handling all that,” Whipps said. “I am heavily involved in prevention efforts to try and get into the weeds with suicides and overdoses. I am working with the drug task force and the suicide prevention task force and some of those things to try and get a handle on this. The bottom line is it feels like it is going to be a crazy year.”

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at

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Dale Killingbeck