School began the next day with an assembly, where students were informed of the incident.
Principal Monty Buness says high-schoolers were given a chance to respond … and grieve.
"We let the kids write on the poster boards to the student and we had kids write on balloons and walk outside and have a balloon release activity. And then we had kids down in the commons most of the morning. But by lunchtime of that day we had kids at least report back to their classes, for kids who needed to have some sort of a sense of a normal day," he says.
Counselors and members of the faith community helped students who wanted to talk. And a weekend Drama-Debate meet scheduled for the school was cancelled, though wrestlers went ahead with plans to attend a competition in another town.
"The school has just tried to work through the individual student issues and keep as much normalcy in school as we can. Obviously those first couple days were pretty difficult. And we’re just watching after our kids to make sure they’re doing OK," he says.
The school was somewhat back to normal by Monday. Buness says Wrangell’s response, including counselors from Alaska Island Community Services, churches and individuals, helped students and staff get there.
"When something like this happens it’s absolutely gut-wrenching, not only to the school community but the community at large. There’s been an out welling of support for us from the community. They’ve been very good at working with our kids and helping our kids," he says.
A <a href="http://www.preventsuicide.net/Teenage-Suicide-Prevention.html">student suicide</a> is not a common event in Southeast. But it’s not as rare as anyone would hope.
Wilbur Brown is suicide prevention manager for the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.
"For a tragedy like that to happen down in Wrangell doesn’t just impact the community of Wrangell. It affects the community of Southeast. One could go so far as to say it affects the whole state when something like this happens, which comes back to our belief that one is too many," he says.
“One is Too Many” is the name of a regional campaign to raise awareness about suicide and spread the word about programs that can help.
Brown says young people, and anyone else in crisis, need to know others care and are willing to provide assistance.
"This is something that you don’t have to keep a secret. Talk to an adult. Talk to somebody you trust. Reach out for help. This is a complicated issue for all of us. There’s really no cut and dry answer to how to deal with this in our communities, except to reach out and talk to other people," he says.
SEARHC offers a <a href="http://www.juneauempire.com/stories/112510/loc_741504414.shtml">toll-free line</a>, 1-877-294-0074, for anyone needing help. <a href="http://www.hss.state.ak.us/suicideprevention/">The state</a> runs a similar “care line” at 1-877-266-HELP.
A number of agencies offer prevention programs for police, teachers, health-care providers and other community members.
Brown says his organization is among those providing a program teaching communication skills needed in crisis situations.
"One of the things that we offer is the Gatekeeper Program. It’s a training to help community members understand that they can talk to somebody who is feeling suicidal, and they can talk to somebody who is struggling with that moment in time, and that they don’t have to freak out about it," he says.
A <a href="http://www.hss.state.ak.us/suicideprevention/statistics.htm">statewide report</a> shows Southeast with some of Alaska’s lowest per-capita suicide numbers. But prevention advocates say any numbers are too high.
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