School provides grief counseling, educates staff after two recent student suicides
Counselors were at Prescott High School Thursday morning to help students, faculty and staff with their grief after a 16-year-old student hung herself earlier this week, just two weeks after her friend, a 16-year-old boy, hung himself.
"The girl's mother dropped her off at school on 9/11 at 8 a.m. and she had her backpack with her, but no one remembers seeing her at school and she wasn't in her first-hour class," Prescott Police Lt. Ken Morley said.
The girl's mother called police when her daughter didn't come home from school, said she was concerned her daughter was contemplating suicide after finding instructions on how to tie a knot on her daughter's computer. Her cell phone was at home, and her schoolbooks were on her bed, according to the police report.
Officers searched for the girl throughout the night and were still looking for her Wednesday morning when a citizen found the girl's body at 10:30 a.m. in a grassy area on Tamarack, a couple hundred yards from the water tower, Morley said.
Police responded and found a note in her pocket, Morley said.
"This made for a lot of sad cops," Morley said, noting that he spoke to his children about the incident and other officers did as well. "This has left so many people devastated. I don't know if they realize the impact what they do has on everyone. It isn't just family and friends. Something like this, it hurts and affects the whole community."
The mother said her daughter was friends with the boy who hung himself, Morley said.
On Aug. 30, the teenage boy's father went to pick up his son for school and found his son's body. Officers found a letter in the home that said the teenager did not feel wanted by friends, knew this was not fair, was sorry for his family, and expressed anger toward education.
"We are heartbroken over the deaths our students," Prescott Unified School District Dave Smucker said. "Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends and the entire community."
Teachers spoke to students, based on an email Prescott High School Principal Totsy McCraley sent, letting them know that students had passed away and "we don't want to lose another."
The email, which Smucker provided to The Daily Courier, reminded students that suicide is a complicated act and should never be an option.
"Students, you are important," teachers told students. "There is not any problem, any situation, anything that is going on in your life that is so bad that you can't come to any adult and talk to them. See a counselor, visit with a favorite teacher, and talk to an administrator or a custodian - any adult. We will listen to you."
Students were asked to write down or text to a friend three things they like about themselves, as well as something they would say to someone who might need to talk, Smucker said.
Prescott Unified School District has a system in place to help with situations like this, and the district is working closely with West Yavapai Guidance Clinic and other experts to provide counseling and develop a suicide prevention program, Smucker said.
A program will be developed to reach students, include in-service on the subject for middle school and high school teachers, and also provide a parent-night presentation on suicide prevention for the community, Smucker said.
Teens can be more susceptible to sudden, traumatic, anxiety-provoking events than adults and respond more impulsively to relationship breakups, being bullied, their perceived failures, thoughts that they have disappointed others, and changes in family life they have no control over, said Julie Nave, Manager of Crisis, Assessment & Referral.
"Sure there's problems being a teenager," Morley said. "There's so much to deal with. But usually over time, some of those problems will not seem so large."
Teens don't have adults' experience to realize that situations change, stressors pass, and over time most issues can be dealt with, Prescott Valley Police Sgt. Brandon Bonney said.
"Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem," Bonney said. "An overall feeling of hopelessness can lead to it."
People experiencing mental health issues are more likely to try to kill themselves, according to research cited by Nave.
Both the teenage boy and girl had a history of depression, according to police reports.