Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sadness in a community and high school across the lake from New Orleans; pray for our kids and talk to them; may they rest in peace

In 48 hours, 2 Mandeville High students take their own lives

(Kim Chatelain, | The Times-Picayune)
Kim Chatelain, | The Times-Picayune By Kim Chatelain, | The Times-Picayune The Times-Picayune  
on April 21, 2016 
Mandeville has been rocked this week with two students from the city's namesake high school killing themselves within 48 hours, befuddling the close-knit school community and prompting public officials to provide support for students and faculty. While the timing, method and proximity of the two deaths are alarming, investigators said they appear to be more of a coincidence than a case of copy-cat suicides.
Brenden Manley, 17 and a member of the Mandeville High swim team, died Monday (April 18). He drove his mother's car to a secluded area on Perrilloux Road near Madisonville and shot himself.
On Wednesday, Nathaniel Hassan posted a chilling video of himself on Instagram minutes before using a pistol to take his own life, in a wooded area off Louisiana 22 near Madisonville. Hassan began the brief video by saying, "Hey, so, I'm killing myself. Goodbye." He then said he could not live happily because "my morals are totally different from the world around me." Hassan had marked his 18th birthday exactly a week earlier.
The St. Tammany Parish coroner, Dr. Charles Preston, said a preliminary investigation suggests the two deaths were "unrelated as opposed to cause and effect." He said Manley and Hassan were not known to run in the same social circles.
Preston, who has done extensive research on the unusually high suicide rate in St. Tammany, said both students appeared to be "pretty well accepted" in peer groups and had good family lives. And he said he does not think bullying played a role in their deaths.
The timing of the two deaths, and the public nature of Hassan's Instagram post, jolted western St. Tammany Parish barely a month after two other untimely deaths of teenagers:
  • On March 11, 17-year-old Zachary Foret fell from a canoe into a pond near Covington and drowned
  • Two days later, 17-year-old Alexander James Shelby, a student at St. Paul's School, died after he and a friend reportedly smoked Mojo. His death was attributed to "synthetic cannabinoid toxicity" and has been classified an accident. Jabari Pea of Covington, has been booked with second-degree murder for allegedly supplying the lethal dose of synthetic marijuana.
St. Tammany has historically had a high suicide rate in comparison to other Louisiana parishes, befuddling area local care workers and public officials. It has hovered between 15 and 17 suicides per 100,000 residents; the state and national averages have been around 12.
Hoping to erase stigma and save lives, St. Tammany Parish confronts suicide issue
St. Tammany has a high suicide rate compared to other parishes

Preston became so rattled by the record 47 suicides in 2014 that he launched an exhaustive analysis of each incident in hopes of finding common threads that might lead to answers. He said the study did not uncover an antidote, but reinforced the notion that combating it is a complex challenge that requires a concerted effort on many fronts.
Robby Fritscher, Manley's swim coach at Mandeville High, said he's never had to deal with such a difficult situation in his 30 years of coaching. He cancelled swim practice this week and instead held team meetings, so that his swimmers could discuss their feelings, talk with counselors and grieve.
"It's been a rough road," Fritscher said. "I'm just really in shock. It makes me want to do something, anything I can do, to make sure something like this never happens again. I'm going to make sure every swimmer of mine for the rest of my career absolutely understands how this has hurt so many people (who) loved him. This kind of stuff can't go on."
Fritscher described Manley as a good student who came from a close, loving family. He had two older brothers and because of that took on the responsibility of helping younger swimmers on the team.
"He had an uncanny ability to take care of the younger kids coming into the group," Fritscher said. "Those kids absolutely adored him."
Manley had just returned from his senior trip to Walt Disney World and was preparing to enter Loyola University and be a part of that school's fledgling swim program. Fritscher, who said he will give the eulogy at Manley's funeral this weekend, said he saw no indication that the student was facing difficulties. He said Manley had worked harder than ever on swimming over the past few months.
It's a very close school. The kids don't understand how this could happen.' - Rick Danielson.
Schools Superintendent W.L. "Trey" Folse III said a team of school system counselors and other professionals from the community were sent to Mandeville High on Thursday to help students and faculties cope.
"The St. Tammany Parish public school system community is deeply saddened by the loss of two Mandeville High students," Folse said. "Our deepest sympathy goes out to the family and friends of the students we lost as well as the entire Mandeville High community."
Mandeville City Councilman-at-large Rick Danielson, a Mandeville High graduate whose son is currently a junior at the school, said the two recent suicides have sent a shiver not only through the school community but the entire city. "This is so incredibly tragic for everyone," Danielson said. "It's a very, very close school and it's always been that way. The kids, they don't understand how this could happen. And that extends beyond the campus."
Preston said there is a new mobile application that lets troubled teens text a crisis line to get help. More information on that resource is available by calling 540.777.3273.
Beyond that, Preston said parents should not hesitate to talk to their children if they suspect them to be struggling. "The message to parents is to trust your gut," he said. "Parents need to feel that they can ask tough questions of their kids."

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