Mount Vernon Administrators Confirm Student Suicide

By Meredith Hines-Dochterman, Reporter

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By Kelli Sutterman

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Mount Vernon school officials confirmed the third student death from suicide this school year.

Parents were notified by email shortly before midnight Tuesday and were notified by phone around 6 a.m. today.

Parent Bonnie Lass said most parents were already aware of the apparent suicide.

“Being in a small community, you find out before the school tells you,” Lass said.

In the e-mail addressed to parents and guardians, Superintendent Pam Ewell said a ninth grade male student died Tuesday and that his family requested communications be shared “as soon as possible.”

The Grant Wood AEA crisis team is at the high school Wednesday, as well as additional counselors from nearby schools. Local area clergy are also available for students and families.

The school district released a statement to local media stating the student died Tuesday evening.

“Our thoughts and support go out to the family, friends, and the Mount Vernon Community at this difficult time,” Ewell stated in the release.

Ewell has not returned a phone call seeking additional comment.

According to the statement, the school district will continue partnership efforts working with members of the community, businesses, law enforcement, health professionals, mental health professionals, and clergy. The district is following the guidelines from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Resource Center.

“As parents, your continued support and encouragement for each of our students is vital,” Ewell stated in the e-mail to parents. “Let them know they are loved.”

This is the high school’s third student suicide this school year.

Jacob Hanson, 17, who was a junior at the school, died on Nov. 18. He had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt in a bathroom at the high school on Nov. 15.

A 14-year-old freshman killed himself in his home last month.

It has been implied that the third student also killed himself at home.

“As a parent it concerns me because I’m thinking, ‘Are these kids being bullied?’ ‘Is this something they decided to do together?’” Lass said.

Contagion is the process by which one suicide death may contribute to another but it is rare, accounting for between 1 percent and 5 percent of all suicide deaths annually.

Nancy Rappaport, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of school programming at Cambridge Health Alliance, said that there are usually indicators before a suicide attempt.

Some of the signs include talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live, talking about being a burden to others, acting anxious or agitated, or withdrawing or feeling isolated.

Rappaport stressed that parents need to communicate with their children and not fear that discussing suicide will influence their behavior.

“What parents need to ask themselves now is how do they help their children grieve and process their pain,” Rappaport said.

In a publication intended to help school districts cope with student suicide, the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention stresses that all students react differently. Some will be openly emotional and others will refuse to communicate. There could be anger and guilt. Some students may use humor to cope.

The foundation supports districts providing opportunities for students to talk and helping them identify their emotions. It also stresses reaching out to parents and the community.

Mount Vernon has responded to the previous incidents by providing counseling for students. Parents were invited to an informational parent session last month. The purpose was to provide an overview of the Crisis Team’s response to student death, description of risk and protective factors involving suicide, and tips for talking with teens and other loved ones about suicide.

Local area counselors and clergy were invited, too.

It is not known at this time if another session will be scheduled.

Lass commended the district for reaching out to students, staff and the community, but added that parents need to be better informed about what, if any, school circumstances contributed to the suicides.

Her oldest son, Dillon, graduated from Mount Vernon last year. Her youngest son, Jamie, is in seventh grade.

“I’m worried, a lot of parents are worried,” Lass added. “The students are too young to deal with this. I know many of the teachers personally and they are asking themselves if there’s something they could have done, should have done. It’s just affecting everyone.”

Editor's Note: Comments on this story have been disabled.
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