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Four Teen Suicides In One Week Plague Pennsylvania County — Not Bullying Related?

by David Badash on September 26, 2012

in Education,News

As the school year begins, tragic reports of teen suicides seem to be growing, but this year, unlike in years past, there seem to be few details — even names and photos are conspicuously absent —  and most reports claim bullying was not a factor. Is this possible? Have we gotten so good at preventing school bullying? Or are school officials and local law enforcement getting better at keeping facts from the public?

In northeastern Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County, four teens in one week succumbed to suicide.

“Four teens ranging in age from 13 to 16 have killed themselves in a one week span in Luzerne County,” WITF reports today:

A 15-year-old Pittston Area School District sophomore killed herself Monday night. Hours later a 13-year-old from Hazleton was found dead.

A second Pittston student, 16, killed himself on Friday and a Greater Nanticoke Area eighth-grader killed himself Sept. 18.

Authorities say the suicides don’t appear to be related to bullying despite hearsay claims to the contrary from students.

Yes, “despite hearsay claims to the contrary from students,” authorities say bullying wasn’t involved.

“As students shuffled into class Tuesday, the Pittston Area school community grieved the loss of a 15-year-old sophomore from Avoca who killed herself in Duryea on Monday night,” reports today:

Hours later, authorities learned a 13-year-old boy from Hazleton had killed himself inside a Church Street home.

In one week, the lives of four Luzerne County schoolchildren had ended from suicide, a bleak time many veteran educators say they have never experienced in their careers.

A Greater Nanticoke Area eighth-grader, 13, fatally shot himself Sept. 18 inside his Nanticoke home. A Pittston Area junior, 16, killed himself with a hunting rifle Sept. 21 at his Jenkins Township home. Authorities did not name the most recent victims or disclose how they died.

Prior to the Hazleton teenager’s death, Pittston Area officials organized a public forum set for 7 tonight at the high school to address teenage suicide, inviting parents and students to talk about solutions with experts. The district, which had grief counselors comforting students the past two days, had become ground zero for the topic with two students dead from suicide.

The suicide in Hazleton reinforced the need for a call to action by everyone in the region, officials said.

“We need to respond. We just want to try to reach out to the parents in the community and make them understand we all need to work together. This is not a Pittston Area School District issue only. This is an issue that is bigger than the school district,” Pittston Area Superintendant Dr. Michael Garzella said early Tuesday afternoon. “This is a community issue. This is a national issue. This is a problem that has to be dealt with. The only way we’re going to be able to prevent these things from happening is if we all work together.”

A few hours later, the problem would criss-cross the county, with authorities being called to the Hazleton home where a 13-year-old boy was found dead from suicide.

Meanwhile, in Iowa last week, 17-year old Dustin VanLaningham also died by suicide, and his father claims he was not bullied either.

In Exeter, New Hampshire, 16-year-old sophomore Cody Brackett, a football player, died, apparently by suicide, although details, now two weeks later, are sketchy. Almost one year ago, “Connor Ball, a 14-year-old Exeter High School freshman, took his own life,” Seacoast Online reports.

“In southern Minnesota alone, there have been six teen suicides this summer, and thousands of teens across America commit suicide every year,” a Minnesota paper reported in an opinion piece last week.

Thousands of teens die by suicide every year, meaning several teens die by suicide each and every day. Rarely do they make national news, which keeps the problem local and separate.

But unlike in years past, these tragic, heartbreaking suicides of young teens, all at the start of the school year, seem to be especially ignored, with little response nationwide. Names, details, photos all seem to be missing, as if releasing this information would somehow harm their memory. Was bullying involved in any of them? We don’t know, and that’s a problem.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide is never the answer. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones. 

The Trevor Project: a 24-hour hotline for gay and questioning youth: 866-4-U-TREVOR (488-7386)

The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) For Hearing & Speech Impaired with TTY Equipment: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)


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{ 1 comment }

JayJonson September 27, 2012 at 9:54 am

One reason this is not reported more frequently and with more detail on gay blogs and media is because after all the suicides in the fall of 2010, we were told (I think by the Trevor Project) that too much reporting, especially with names and other details, actually creates a copy-cat effect for vulnerable youth. They begin to think of suicide as a way to gain posthumous fame. I don't know whether that is true or not, but it had an immediate effect, with most blogs choosing not to report on suicides in any way that could be seen as valorizing them. I don't know what the solution is, especially when bullying is involved.

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