SANDPOINT, Idaho - A woman from North Idaho is nearly halfway into an incredible journey, turning the biggest tragedy of her life into a way to change -- and potentially save -- the lives of others.
When her Justine Murray's 25-year-old son Ethan was shot and killed by a Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy in 2019, she set out to make a difference, so mental health emergencies would stop ending this way.
"I feel like we need more help in advocating for our mentally ill," Murray said days after the shooting. "There was no place for him to go. There was nobody that could help. I want things to change for our kids and our future."
Ethan Murray had been struggling with schizophrenia for years. The day of the shooting, he had been chasing kids at an apartment complex in Spokane Valley when a deputy made contact with him. When Ethan saw the deputy he went back toward the homeless camp where he was living. As he reached for his empty pocket, the deputy shot and killed him.
Growing up, Justine says her son was a smart and compassionate young man, who loved skiing, skateboarding, and being in nature. He went by the nickname "Birdman," because he seemed to be able to fly.
Since his death, Justine has found his memory in the mountains, leading her to the Idaho Centennial Trail.
Now, she and her partner Matt Connery, are hiking the entire trail -- more than 900 miles-- to raise money for mental health programs and resources in North Idaho.
They started at the southern border and are walking home, averaging roughly 15 miles a day.
"It's been really hot most of the hike," Justine explained through a Facetime call, when they found some cell phone service. "We are in Stanley, Idaho now in the Sawtooths, which has been nice because there's water and shade. And it's beautiful."
Their trip hasn't been easy though. The trails are riddled with wildfires. They've had a close call with a bear, and the heat at times has been extremely difficult.
But Justine says each struggle brings a new perspective of what a mile must have been like in her son's shoes.
"That's part of why I wanted to do this trail," she explained. "I wanted to know what it was like to find a place to sleep every night, not knowing where your next meal is coming from, as close as I can be to what he had to deal with every day."
"It's what's it like to live in crisis" Matt added. "It's been humbling."
The trip has also allowed them moments to grieve, without the distractions of everyday life.
"I had this pretty special moment at the highest point of ICTs, at approximately 9,200 feet," Justine said. "There was this beautiful field of wildflowers and hummingbirds. Ever since Ethan passed, all of my family has been surrounded by hummingbirds, and there were hundreds up there."
Justine says it's also healing to know their efforts could be what stops another mother from losing their child.
That starts with getting people the help they need to get better.
Since her son's death, they've been working with a few local nonprofit groups to help expand on their work. But they also have specific goals for their fundraising.
"We want to help people, whether they need transportation costs to get to appointments, whether they need help with medications. Our big dream is to open a 24-hour crisis center in Sandpoint. For our county right now, the closest crisis center is about 45 minutes away. So when your loved one is in crisis, you're told to take them to Coeur d'Alene, which is quite a drive when someone is in crisis," she said.
If there had been resources like those for the Sandpoint area back in 2019, Justine says her son might still be alive.
That's why they're hiking. Each step is one closer, to hopefully better days.
"I do believe the more we talk about and the more we're open about it," Justine said, "the more people share their stories and humanize mental health, so that we can get help for it."
The goal of their hike is to raise both awareness, and $50,000. So far, they've collected more than $15,000 in donations, and they have about $5,000 in pledges at Justine's store in Sandpoint, La Chic Boutique.
If you'd like to support their efforts, you can donate online through their website, EthanMurrayFund.org where you can also read more about Ethan Murray's story and their organization's mission, as well as follow along with their trip.
In person, you can write a check to the Ethan Murray Fund, and give it to the staff at La Chic Boutique, where you can also join their pledge.
You can also follow along with their trip and efforts by following the Ethan Murray Fund on Instagram and Facebook.