Train victim, 17, identified as Gunn senior Crimes & Incidents, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Jun 2, 2009 at 11:37 pm
The 17-year-old girl who ended her life Tuesday night at a Caltrain crossing was identified today by friends as Sonya Raymakers, a senior at Gunn High School who had been accepted at New York University for next fall.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, June 3, 2009, 11:08 AM
Posted by ..., a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 12:53 am
You guys, it doesn't matter if its a student or not. Something like this is very serious whether she goes to our school or not. And even if she doesn't go to our school, it doesn't mean that it wont impact everyone.
Posted by Anon, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 1:51 am
Jesus. All of this and they STILL want to build a high speed railway through here. I voted against it and I hope that it doesn't happen. Imagine the rate of accidental deaths and/or suicides this will bring.
Posted by Sick Boy R10 oner, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 2:04 am
There are like no accidents, they are all suicides... Why would the increase in the speed of the train affect someones choice of taking their life. A high speed railway would be great for transit commuting. It's obvious that if someone decides to take their life, it's their choice nothing can change this. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by Oh no, not again. :(, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 2:31 am
If they put a high-speed railway here, it makes PERFECT SENSE to put the damned thing UNDERGROUND, even if "OMG it's more expensive WTF".
Hecka lot harder to decide to take a sad and mistaken path like this, if such is the case.
Rest In Peace, whoever you are. There was likely 100% certainty of some solution and some "way out" of your personal pain other than that choice, but given the very nature of the predicament, you simply couldn't SEE it - I understand and I know, I've been there; and narrowly avoided that outcome. Due to sheer life experience, I DO now better now, but when life seems to be imploding, it IS so hard to see any way out at all; that's the truly nasty nature of evil things like depression.
Posted by Oh no, not again :(, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 2:35 am
... Assuming it wasn't a complete accident. However, at a specific street crossing, with what the story above claims had working lights and crossing gate arms (AKA Very Obvious), it's a bit odd for it to be "an accident"....
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 2:46 am Walter_E_Wallis is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Just close the bloody crossings. Palo Alto has routinely closed off neighborhoods to through traffic because someone decided the tranquility was more valuable than the public's right of way. The deaths at Meadow, both accidental and suicide, suggest that Meadow and Churchill be closed NOW and that a Charleston overpass be constructed as soon as possible. As an interim Charleston solution, build a bike and pedestrian overpass and close pedestrian access at grade. It is a damnable shame that our city government allows this slaughter to continue while it chases willow-the-wisps and vanity issues.
Posted by Dawna, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 6:24 am
I was out there last night and according to the police officer that i spoke to and my police scanner said there were witnesses an they were the ones that blocked off the intersection. They said that it was a suicide as when the police were doing their measuing they were walking southbound down the tracks. The body was laying right in the middle of the roadway. honestly guys the covering was not very big at all. I knew it was a young person. We are talking like middle school in my opinion. Its so very sad. I spoke with a police officer and mentioned to him that someone needed to do something about this intersection or area as it seems that if you want to commit suicide East Meadow Dr apparently is the place to do it. I responded to him ... 3 people in a month.
Posted by Barbara Spreng, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 8:05 am
As a community, we must do more to address the social-emotional needs of our children, students and friends. Parents and students....please become informed about the signs and symptoms of teen depression. On June 4 and 18, Adolescent Counseling Services is presenting community forums with a panel of experts to speak about depression in teens and answer any related questions. All members of the community -- families, parents, teens, or those interested in the topic -- are invited to take part in an evening dedicated to discussing this very important issue. For details -- Web Link
Posted by frank, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 8:35 am
community, who ever it may have been, please don't place flowers and signs at the railroad crossing. if you want to show your respect, do it at the person's house, funeral, etc....all we do by putting it at the tracks is show people that if you commit suicide and die here, people will support you and your decision...what kind of message are we sending by doing this? we must stop the suicides.
Posted by sad, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 8:49 am
The pain of depression and the overwhelming desire to make the pain go away are the usual reasons why young people commit suicide. Seeing a memorial, either impromptu or formal is a help for the living. These young people who knew this wonderful young woman need to grieve. If leaving flowers at the site helps, what harm is it?
Posted by Mom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:13 am
They released the identify of this person?
Students - life may seem tough at that particular moment - but remember there is always a silver line to any cloud. Suicide should never be an option to "get away" from things ... please please get help.
Posted by Please..., a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:30 am
As difficult as it is - let's try to remain calm and not attack each other or even jump to assumptions about posters' identities. I'm afraid and frustrated, too - and heartsick for this young woman and all those who loved her. We SHOULD be upset, we should be extremely concerned - these are our children...
Ours IS a community that cares deeply about our young people and each other - but something is terribly, terribly wrong. No more attacks please. We need to come together as a community to address this.
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:34 am
I hesitate to post anything at this sad time.
I shudder when I think of the pain that the parents and any siblings must be going through at this time. And to reflect on the pain the person who took her life must have been going through.
Many years ago a co-worker's son committed suicide. Shortly after that I was walking into a bookstore and featured was..
Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison. I had to buy and read it.
It is a good book for people to read on the topic I think.
The author is a professor of Psychiatry at John Hopkins and herself has suffered with manic depression and suicide attempts.
What struck me about the book was the part about the tendency for the tendency for suicide to be inherited. One would think that it would select out naturally. But suicide is tied to manic depression and manic depression is tied to the creative fire which has propelled humans to our current heights---artistic and creative in many ways.
The sentence of the book that rang for me was (Paraphrasing from memory) "the first person to throw a spear into a Mastodon was probably manic depressive. He may not have survived the attempt but paved the way for his tribe to survive better".
The book covers many other aspects. It also describes suicide magnets--GG Bridge, a volcano in Japan, (I forget if Hoover Tower was mentioned).
Posted by sad, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:42 am
In years past, paly students at churchill, this year 2 gunn students at east meadow. I wonder what it will take to have the city/state/caltrain make these intersections suicide free? Our kids bike across these intersections starting in middle school; they know the dangers and it appears as though these intersections are indeed suicide magnets for our stressed and depressed high school students. How can we make these intersections less appealing? How many deaths will it take?
Posted by Paly Parent, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:47 am
My heart goes out to the whole Gunn community. As the parent of a student of the Paly 2006 class who lost two classmates to suicide, I know that the pain is deep and remains long after the events. I remember and feel the same pain as I once again here the same news.
Please, all parents, hug your kids when they get home from school today. Forget about the importance of grades and homework and finals and allow the tears to come.
Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:48 am
So terribly sad. My daughter just called from school and everyone there is distraught.
I'm feeling sadness for this child, her friends, and her family.
But I'm also feeling a lot of anger right now. The Gunn "lifestyle" has been bothering me for all 4 years my daughter has been there. Party hard, work hard, play hard. Don't sleep or watch TV or loll around picking daisies. Be DOING something! And oh yeah, be perfect at everything you do.
Our teenagers are getting the message that if they are not perfect then there is something wrong with them. I'm blessed with a child who has resisted the message and is ok with making a B and showing up late for class occasionally (ok, regularly), but there are lots of kids who take the pressures seriously and end up wounded.
Please, parents and PAUSD, it is time for a readjustment of the messages you are sending our children!
Sorry for the anger. I know this is a time for support. My prayers go to this lovely young woman's friends and family.
Posted by Two Gunn Parents, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:58 am
Our hearts go out to her mom, dad, sibs, and rest of her family. They’ve done so much for our community, let’s be there for them now. May they find the peace that is beyond earthly understanding in this tragedy.
Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:00 am
Gunn Parent -
I totally agree with you, this is tremendously sad and also makes me very angry. I'm sure it is no coincidence that finals are this week and next, nor do I think it is a coincidence that the most recent previous suicide occurred during AP testing and STAR testing. These are very high stress times for our students, when they can feel like a failure for getting a B.
You should be proud of your daughter and your family for creating a culture where she has been able to resist the stress.
Perhaps this will be a wake-up call not only to the parents and community, but also to the teachers and administrators who have the opportunity to reduce student stress.
Posted by james michael, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:01 am
its amazing what you can get out of your kid while riding in the car
with teenagers you have to look hard to find common ground ways to hold onto your kid that you may have never seen yourself doing, for me it giving my son a ride to and from school' either parent or grand parent, everyday both ways.. when it comes to being politicly correct or being in the same space with my kid the choice is easy
these kids my act independent but as a parent you have to push back through that and stay in the space a lot of what goes wrong at gunn is peer pressure not from the school or parents but from lost teens following lost teens because the parents have opened up that space, stay connected give them a hug, be seen with them at school, keep them home some nights
Posted by sad, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:15 am
Let's be really careful about what we post. We all have a need to find a 'reason' for why this is happening, and yet every person is unique. Blaming stress, political correctness, parents, tests, etc. etc. is all very natural but we are dealing with real people and real grief.
I knew this person and she was a wonderful, talented, beautiful teenager. She was loved and she will be missed.
Posted by Goose, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:17 am
Please please please grade-separate the tracks so this doesn't happen anymore. I was at Paly when this happened, and it's terrible for the school, the community and obviously the family. We need to grade-separate Caltrain and make incidents like these much more rare.
Posted by A Teacher, a member of the Terman Middle School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:20 am
My heart breaks/aches for the entire student community ... please know that there is ALWAYS a next day ... it may not be a great day ... but there will be a next day ... don't feel that there isn't one ... there was a time in my own life when I could have made a decision with a train ... if I took the other option I would have never had the wonderful opportunity to have been able to know so many of you as students and as individuals .... please, please know people are here to listen ... and that we care .... we really do care ... talk to someone .... listen to each other ... care enough to do something about it ... and think at least 48 hours before doing something permanent .... and then think another 48 hours .... and then another 48 hours .... you get my drift .... remember you are loved ....
Posted by Focus, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:23 am
Let's put our focus where it belongs - on protecting the kids - and their emotional lives! Putting a train underground doesn't help - I'm from NY City - do you know how many suicides happen there because people jump down on the UNDERGROUND tracks? How dare anyone turn this into a political argument for their own personal gain!
Posted by bruce, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:38 am
This is really sad, very tragic that someone who is 17 feels they have to take their own life ... for any reason. Can anyone give my any idea or reason why 3 "children" would do this in the very recent past?
I went to Paly in the early 70's, I think I can recall 1 suicide by a wonderful boy everyone liked who very obese. Here in Palo Alto we supposedly have all these resources and such caring advanced society, and look at this?
What is this telling us and why don't we listen? One hears 3 suicides in the last few months and our projections fill out minds as to the reasons. Anyone who lets a train run over them must feel they have a reason to do so. Are they wrong or does society alienate them or jettison them to the point where they think this is a solution for their life?
Posted by Cry, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:43 am
I cry for this girl's tragedy because I have a Paly age girl. I made a right decision not to buy a house crossing the train on the east side of train. Even I drive crossing the train track, I feel luck that my daughters don't have to cross the train track to go to schools.
Hire safety guard on the train area!
Have your kids anticipating arts or sports activities. Talk to your kids everyday, to hear their voice, be their friend!!
Posted by frank, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:50 am
"If leaving flowers at the site helps, what harm is it? "
If this was an accident, i would say leave all the flowers you want. This was not the case. This was an intentional act, and acknowledging the intentional act, should not be done.
I am not against showing respect, but not at the tracks. do it at the home, funeral, school. all it shows for the next person thinking about committing suicide here is: "do it here again so you can get the attention you always needed."
Posted by Ada, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:54 am
This is such a tragedy, tragedy for the family and for the train conductor. Imagine the stress of driving Caltrain and fearing that there will be someone stepping on the tracks. I was initially opposed to the idea of barrier fense, because I thought that if someone has set his or her mind on doing it, nothing will stop this person, but now that it does seem like a tradition (similar to jumping off Golden Gate), I do think that a barrier could be a good idea. If only it would give the determined person an extra minute of his life to climb that fence during which the decision to end his/her life can reverse. Build that fense!
Posted by sad, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:03 am
My kids were good friends with her. If it helps these kids grieve by placing flowers at the site, at her house, at gunn; then more power to them. I'm having trouble believing that seeing flowers by the track will 'encourage' someone to commit suicide.
Posted by Kira, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:09 am
Horrible horrible story, my condolensces to family. But on a practical side - can't these trains have some sort of anti-suicidal technology built-in, like an air cushion in front of the train the pushes any object emerging on the tracks aside? Like a leafblower...
Posted by sad_one, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:19 am
Please - Build that high speed rail!
High speed railroad means no level crossings, elevated and fenced-off tracks. That should be much safer. But don't blame all on trains. It may be about too stressful lifestyle, putting GPA scores or Star Test results way too high on the values level. School system and our society may not be innocent.
Posted by Gunn Mom, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:21 am
My heart breaks when I heard this news. My thoughts and prayers go to the young lady's family and friends. This is so very tragic. Young people out there, please talk to someone, anyone, if you have issues you can't resolve. Don't make this kind of decisions. It's irreversible.
Posted by galen, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:22 am
I live very near this crossing and it breaks my heart that young people are ending their lives there. We, as a society, are failing our children. With the prospects of endless war, crushing debt, environmental destruction, and a global Police State, we have to come to grips with how this is affecting the hearts, minds, and souls of our children. I'm so sorry that yet another bright light has been extinguished.
Posted by Parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:24 am
The Adolescent Counseling service does not work at our schools. The model was designed to save funds for the school district. Our children deserve dedicated staff at the high school that they can build a relationship with and can count on seeing if they need to. The guidance counselors and staff at Terman serve as a very strong model of what helping students through emotional difficulties can look like. We support children who need help academically and athletically-- but not emotionally. And shockingly, when I discuss this with some other parents they answer that if a child has touble transitioning to High School or getting through it, then the child must have been sheltered throughout their life
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:27 am
I'll try to comment with as much sensitivity as I can. But - closing the crossings to traffic. OK - but this will not be 100% effective. If a person is bent on suicide, they'll just find another way - scale the fence in between stations/crossings, or access the track at the train station and walk down a ways where no one will see you/stop you.
Crossing guard suggestion --- all three unfortunate events happened at "off hours" from school commuting. The last one at 10PM. A guard will help with student safety during commute hours, but I don't think that these terrible tragedies would have been prevented by a crossing guard, given the timing of each event.
Posted by palo alto sucks, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:30 am
^none of that will ever help. notice that they just put up fences along alma next to the tracks right before the other 2 suicides... nothing is going to stop someone who really wants to die if you haven't already realized that. there are already suicide hotline signs on the tracks, but seriously? its not going to stop this from happening...
Posted by Palo Alto Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:33 am
It is time for parents and the administration to re-set the standards for our kids. Standards are set way too high for all our kids -- Why is it that our kids need 20 activities and A+'s to get into a California school? There is something wrong with our system starting from the top. Why can't kids experience being a kid in Palo Alto? I have lived in Palo Alto for 10 years and it seems as though our Palo Alto kids have more than one suicide a year. This is not normal my friends. This is saying something is wrong about our area with the expectations and values instilled in our kids. They are missing something - It is time for everyone to re-evaluate our standards for a "normal" child - not just for our prodogy children....
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:34 am
I don't see how getting that kind of counseling situation is going to happen at our high schools. With the budget crunch, the schools will get bigger and more competitive (just that many more kids competing for a top spot.)
The money will go into other things besides counseling for the kids. Bigger school, less sense of community.
It just becomes easier for kids to fall through the cracks.
Posted by PA Parent, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:38 am
To Crescent Park Dad ... It seems that suicide, like crime, requires three things: motive, means, and opportunity. The comments coming in to this site reflect on each of these in different ways.
Do we 'fix' the motive by counseling teens and reducing their stress? Yes! Do we 'fix' the means by redo-ing our train crossings? Yes! That would reduce the likelihood of even a motivated person being successful. Other methods require much more planning and effort: buy a gun (nearly impossible), find enough pain pills to kill you (possible but could take a while), drive up to SF to the bridge (traffic is a hassle).
Making suicide difficult IS a deterrent, especially to teenagers whose moods change hourly. As a teen, back in the 60s before huge quantities of pain meds filled the average bathroom, and living far from train crossing and bridges, I considered slitting my wrists. But the thought of the blood and mess turned me off. So I wrote an agonized suicide note and felt better.
I am not making light of these things, but trying to provide some perspective. It is a multi-faceted problem we are facing. Teens need to be protected from their own impulses, so I find myself coming down on the side of ANY measure that makes the train track less accessible (rerouting, 24-hour guards, whatever).
Posted by 08 gunn grad, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:39 am
To the person who complained about the words chosen in the article to describe what happened--The author of the article was just telling it like it was. Personally, the descriptiveness made the facts sink in. Why should an article about something so tragic have to be written in a sterile and simplified manner? The terminology used in this article served to acknowledge the fact that a life was lost, and the tragedy of that loss. I think it is very important that our press report tragedies for what they are, not sterile, indescriptive events.
I wish I knew who this was...I hope her family and friends are getting through this together. A guy in my dance class at Humboldt State took his life last October. Even though I barely knew him, I became very depressed on and off for about a month, and I could see how much it hurt his close friends--they suffered so much. I realized it must hurt worse than just about anything else, to lose someone so young and with so much potential. Perhaps the hardest part is realizing that they did not believe they had that potential. I am so sorry for this loss.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:41 am
This is so sad, it takes my breath away. I sit here searching for an answer - why this had to be. I come away empty - there are no good answers I think.
Maybe the students at Gunn and Paly can band together now to turn tragedy into a change for the better. Lets not let these two poor kids have died in vain (plus the ones last year, year before, year before that, and on and on..) I think it would be a very powerful message to Obama administration, FRA, and California legislators if the kids banded together to write letters or something asking for laws to require the trains to be undergrounded, kept out of neighborhoods. High speed rail or not. There need to be some laws put in place to prevent this from every happening again. We need safety regulations, trains don't belong barrelling through communities, on school routes, behind homes and backyards.
Its true that trains were here a long time before the town grew up, but the fact is - now the town has grown up - its now a densely populated family town, (as are all the towns up and down this Peninsula). Take care of the children - we need to make the trains inaccessible. If they can't get the trains out of here all together (which they probably can't, or won't), they need to put them underground, sealed off and away from access to cars, pedestrians, bikes. Fences along the tracks are going to be useless to prevent people, especially kids, who have the intention of using trains for this purpose.
They are in the process of designing new high speed rail to come through here - now would be an excellent time to make sure they do this right, and fix this terribly tragic problem for all future generations to come.
Posted by 08 gunn grad, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:53 am
Also: I got counseling from Adolescent Counseling at Gunn and Terman and did not find it helpful at all. At Gunn it was my own fault--I did not click with my counselor, but was too shy to ask for a different one. At Terman, my counselor was manipulative (actually lied to me a few times), and was eager to tell me he had read the Satanic Bible. Reading a book like that isn't in itself a bad thing, but telling a depressed 13 year old about it?! This counselor just did NOT know what he was doing. I suffered more than benefited from AC services.
It may be a good idea for the community to have a chance to look at how these services are run. They are clearly important.
Posted by Just Another Gunn Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:55 am
This has brought tears to my eyes. Please, love your kids, hug your kids, be in tune with your kids, and most importantly, LET THEM BE KIDS! We, you, me and the Palo Alto lifestyle is putting entirely too much pressure on the innocent ones. My thoughts go out to her family and friends. I am so very sorry.
Posted by Parent, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 12:00 pm
That is a tragedy, impossible to describe in any way or form - for the beautiful girl, for her family and friends, for poor kids exposed to those events, for parents sick worried raising kids, neighbors, Caltrain workers... Nobody was left without scaring and pain! So, so sorry!
I just have a couple question for our forum:
- After the last suicide, it was so public, attracted so much attention, so many kids of all ages are involved in the discussions and services without being emotionally or mentally capable of handling the information correctly. It effects adults, but for kids those events are crucial. I would understand physiologists, teachers, parents, community alert, additional discussions about priceless gift of life, but I didn't hear that what the boy did was wrong. That may send a false statement to our kids.
- Where are the professionals at school, who spend so much time with our kids, whom we trust with their life at least 6-7 hours a day? They have an opportunity to observe kids at school 'jungle'. From what I understood, both kids come from loving, involved families, having extra activities and goals in life.
- In Terman graduation class this year, kids wrote speeches. One boy was saying that Terman is like a plate of nachos, delicious, crunchy outside and greasy, unhealthy inside.
Teacher was asking if he was serious, submitting the speech to the principal, and when he said "yes", punished the boy. Why not to listen to the boys feelings instead? Why not to talk to the principal figuring the cause? As a parent you may not know that and miss the opportunity to correct, explain, participate, prevent.
Hug the kids - YES, but also PREY/HOPE for the well being of your loved ones. My heart is with both kids families.
Posted by shocked and sad friend and teacher, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 12:02 pm
RE the comment about ACS not working in our schools-- they are SO overworked and underpaid, it's not funny, not at all. The ACS counselors are terrific, highly qualified personnel, who care deeply about the students they work with-- it's just that there aren't enough of them, and not enough hours in the day for them to do what's needed.
I knew this beautiful, talented young woman-- and once again, she gave no clues that she was having suicidal ideation. A senseless, tragic loss.
Would increased counseling opps on campuses help with this kind of thing? Not sure... Awareness of depression, its symptoms, societal acceptance of it, education about where and when to seek help, etc.-- all that needs to be part of the curriculum starting in middle school. Maybe, just maybe we would begin to see more teens getting help rather than taking their lives. But it's hard to say. There's no absolute fix, ever. And each case is different, even unique. All the counseling in the world may not have made a difference in this particular case...
My heart is broken today for this dear girl, and her family and friends.
Posted by Gunn parent 2, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 12:21 pm
I am very very sorry, and scared...It sounds like students need outlets. They use each other as an outlet, which would not work. There were many factors that led to the tragedies, but there were no easy solutions. IMHO, making some homework as optional may be an easiest outlet. My son stayed up very late working on his schoolwork from time to time, which concerned me very much. Young people needs sleep. Lack of sleep may cause depression. I hope kids can get more sleeping hours by skipping some optional homework...which is my two cents.
Posted by Nixon Parent, a member of the Nixon School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 12:39 pm
PA Online, please amend the article to include referral to suicide prevention resources, including the national hotline 1-800-273-TALK. Also consider including a statement on depression as well. These two suggestions are consistent with widely accepted media reporting guidelines/best-practices on suicide prevention. Per the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), "Research indicates that the way suicide is reported in the media can contribute to additional suicides and suicide attempts." As an influential and timely local media source, PA online has an ethical responsibility to help, and at the very least, ensure you do no harm. Please see the SPRC PDF for at-a-glance media reporting guidelines: Web Link
Additional resources for media reporting are available at the SPRC and SPAN USA websites, which you can google and look for their media info (I couldn't include links here due to your link limits).
Here is suggested wording for your article or a highlight box adjacent to it (You can also download online logos or ad links for 1-800-273-TALK from the suicide prevention lifeline website).
"Anyone who is suicidal may receive immediate help by calling 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number), logging onto Web Link , or vising myspace:Web Link . Suicide is preventable, and if you are feeling suicidal, you must get help."
Suggested statement on depression: "The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Anyone suffering from depression needs to receive IMMEDIATE help."
Posted by bruce, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 12:43 pm
Posted above by parent:
> Why not to listen to the boys feelings instead?
Hmm, that would certainly set a bad precedent, thinking about people first, and not their value to the economy as good little workers. Scared workers. Not to sound too "socialist" or anything, but many have said the purpose of school is to push people into roles. If we started listening to people, I know if anyone listened to me when I was that age I would have been quite radical.
Notice that for right or wrong we expect people to become more conservative and conforming the older they get.
But, do we even know that this girl's motivations centered around school? And is it probing or too private to want to find out?
Finally, is this human nature we see in schools, or are the schools pushing people and putting too much pressure on them, and if the schools are, what about regular life?
Personally I think much of this is about power, status, politics, even at that age, and overall we would be better to have a more equal society (sorry, way off track here) but it's all about those on top justifying themselves, and sometimes they convince others to hate themselves. Rant over!
Posted by PA Parent, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 12:44 pm
To "shocked and sad" and others with similar questions about how parents, community, ACS, and others can identify suicidal children ... warning: long rant and rave follows!
I think the problem here is that in Palo Alto we consider kids with "suicidal ideation" to be out of the norm. We consider anything sad or angry or vulnerable to be out of the norm. We drug our "hyperactive" boys and ignore our overly-passive girls. And everyone is expected to be happy all the time, to "suck it up", to "get a life" ... and any number of other injunctions to stop complaining and work harder. Complaining is definitely out of the norm in this perfect community. Depression is a form of suppressed anger, anger directed at the self instead of outward. Teens have plenty to be angry about, but here in happy valley there is no outlet for it. It's uncool to be angry. Just try anger or complaint sometime. People will walk away from you like you have dog poo on your shoes.
One way we can help kids in our community might be to change how we define the norm. Kids should be helped to understand that it is ok to cry, not only when you have a reason to be sad, but to cry for no reason at all. Likewise it is ok to complain, to indulge in self-pity, to be angry. Kids don't want to be pulled out of class to see a psychologist just because they're feeling crappy 6 days out of 7. They want the community, parents, teachers, everyone, to know that their LIFE is crappy 6 days out of 7. And with things in the world being what they are these days, sometimes it's more like 8 days out of 7. We can help by trying to fix that and by letting them know that yes, life is crappy sometimes and it's normal to suffer and often the best we can do is muddle through. WE the parents are not perfect, we are losers and compromisers in various ways. We strive, we suffer, and most of the time we settle for less. Don't we? If you find yourself reading this and finding it difficult to agree with me, then you may be part of the problem with teens in a town with unrealistic expectations about life.
Posted by Mike, a resident of Los Altos, on Jun 3, 2009 at 12:46 pm
Alan and to all who propose bridges, bike paths, elevated, underground tracks, etc. This is not an issue of accidental safety. These are obvious successful attempts to end one's life. The issue is to get to root of their problem(s)and to prevent them from doing what they have done. The bridge proposal is just a bandage on a bigger problem. So, track is not accessible, well then, they'll just choose another method.
I am saddened by how many of these suicides appear to be irrational acts coming from seemingly healthy people. Today's technology brings the world closer together, yet it appears to keep people apart at the same time. Parents are not doing a good job of monitoring their children's well being and schools are too worried about violating a student's privacy and civil rights. It's no wonder kids these days appear to have easy communication, but they really have no one to talk to.
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 12:49 pm
This is such a tragedy. Two Gunn H.S. students in two months. Both successful students. Both near the end of their high school years. We need to find out what these 16-18 year old students are thinking, to keep from this happening again.
Posted by Gunn parent 2, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 12:53 pm
It is very hard for my son to go to bed before 12 AM. The average time is about 2 AM. There were a few times he stayed up the entire night because projects due the next day. I found some of the schoolwork were simply busy works. They would not learn anything new from those busy works. I told my son that health was the first and grades were not as important...but never worked...because homework and projects counted in the final grades.
Posted by bru, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 1:06 pm
> We consider anything sad or angry or vulnerable to be out of th
> norm. We drug our "hyperactive" boys and ignore our overly-passive
> girls. And everyone is expected to be happy all the time, to "suck
> it up", to "get a life" ... and any number of other injunctions to
> stop complaining and work harder.
Nice comment. However, if the system we have set up works fine by tossing everyone else out, and just harvesting and rewarding those who can pass the test you describe above, what do we do about that?
I am falling into the trap I did not mean to, and that that we are talking about things we have no idea the connection to this event. A person's being is being used to justify political talk ... possibly not fair or good.
Posted by Gunn parent, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 1:09 pm
What about seeking counseling outside of ACS and school. If parents sense a problem - and who of us doesn't - find an MFT or psychologist so your kid can open up and take time out for some self-reflection and guidance. I do not guess about Sonya's issues or judge any part of her life. I just hope parents are open to initiating something on their own for their kids, and don't look to the schools to keep your kids healthy.
I pray that Sonya and her family and community find peace.
Posted by Karen, a resident of Mountain View, on Jun 3, 2009 at 1:14 pm
As the mother of a Paly student who committed suicide on the tracks at Churchill in the 1980's, I know just what Sonya's parents are going through and what the Gunn community is feeling. My thoughts are with you. Hang on to each other now, as tight as you can, and watch out for one another. This is an impossibly painful burden to carry.
Posted by Alan, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 1:37 pm
> Alan and to all who propose bridges, bike paths,
> elevated, underground tracks, etc. This is not an
> issue of accidental safety.
It is a matter of a teenager acting on a temporary impulse that with time likely would go away. What the E. Meadow crossing represents is an all to easily accessible place to act on that impulse.
If the kids got in the habit of crossing over a bike bridge it would take a "more deliberate" act then stepping ahead a few feet while a train is passing by. Also we could enforce a "no pedestrians" on the tracks better too.
We need a bike bridge at the East Meadow Crossing to make it safer.
Posted by Elena, a member of the Barron Park School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 1:55 pm
I see the big problem in the size of schools and the whole school system in America where students of mega school campuses fail to develop close friendships or a sense of belonging to a community. It is just not possible with such a huge school. Reshuffling kids continuously thoughout their school years does not help foster close relationships, circles of friends who could become your anchor. In my country we spent entire 10 years of school with the same group of 35-40 kids, all the way from elementary to high school. And your classmates become your family for the rest of your life. Years later you could always call any of your classmates and you will get treated as if you are a sister or a brother. I think the problem with depressed kids and adults is fundamental in American society and where there is no community (religious, school, or other kind) it makes the "lightness of being" quite "unbearable"
Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 1:56 pm
I do not understand why a girl's suicide causes so many to talk about the train crossings. I doubt she would want you to be talking about the train and it's perilous crossings. This teenager ended her life last night and the community is trying to make sense of it. Anyone with a teenager has to be affected in some way and I for one want to know why our teens are doing this. Why is this a choice of our teens. Doesn't anyone want to know. I wish that there was some light to be shed on her suicide, rather than talk about a the life of a train in palo alto and all of its crossings.
Posted by Numb, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 1:59 pm
I am grieving over the loss of such a talented, creative, wonderful young lady who quietly contributed so much to the Gunn drama community, but above all was an amazing friend to my daughter. I wish I could understand, Sonya, but I just can't. The Little Theatre will never be quite the same. We'll miss you and think of you always.
A message to Palo Alto parents: I fervently wish that you would STOP pointing fingers at school administrators and teachers, and start taking responsibility yourself for the mental health of your children. How can you allow them to take 5 AP classes and then complain about their workload and sleepless nights? How can you encourage them to fill every afternoon and weekend with extra-curricular activities, and then complain that they don't have time to be "just kids?" YOU are the ones that should be setting the limits, even with teenagers, who often need limits more than anyone. Their life will turn out o.k., especially if they know that you care about them.
Posted by Susan, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 2:10 pm
I think bike/pedestrian-bridges and other safety structures are vital for our furture condensing neighborhood. I live two blocks from the tragic suicide crossing. It makes me shudder everytime I see a train speed by kids standing so close-by.
We want our children to know we are going to make the world safer for them. Rubber mats under play strutures in grade school and open high speed train-lines whizzing by them a few years later?
I also feel for the engineers who run the trains. They're just going to work everyday expecting to come home to their families in the same condition.
It's not a debate about teen suicide reduction versus adding a public saftey structure. Do we need a petition circulating before our government takes action?
Let's put some saftey structures in for everyone's sake!
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 2:10 pm
I agree with you, but our schools are in the process of getting bigger not smaller.
Since suicide can be impulsive, making our version of the Golden Gate Bridge less accessible might be a deterrent. Just get kids out of the habit of crossing the track and fixating accordingly. I'm not convinced we need through roads at Meadow and I know we don't really need one at Charleston--covered trench, bike bridge--either way is fine with me.
I do think there is a particular issue with our schools--in both cases, the kids seem to have felt they needed to wear a facade over their unhappiness. That, in and of itself, is isolating and that emotional isolation is dangerous.
Posted by Mike Miller, a resident of another community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 2:33 pm
I am a grandpa and can sympathize with the pain and upset felt by the parents and friends of the deceased. My advice is ... don't do it under any circumstances. Life has so much to offer us. Try to see the bright side of things.
Posted by Liza, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 2:35 pm
Next to the memorials by the tracks let's post some 24 hour crisis line numbers and messages of love and encouragement to our young people to stay with us and help us make our community a more nurturing and sustaining place for them to grow up in. These need to be more immediate and personal than the official signs already in place. When I called the city with this idea this morning I was told I'd need to get "permission" to do this. Perhaps for once we could just skip the Palo Alto Process and just reach out to all of our young - they need us to. I'm sure that there are many other ideas we could also be working on to address this. Let's do it. And to all of you wonderful young people, hang in there - we love you.
Posted by Leslie, a member of the Palo Alto High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 3:00 pm
sometimes it's the other way 'round. I know my husband and I spend our effort talking our kids down from high lane classes, not into them. I've long been an advocate of free-time all summer, the freedom to discover your real interests by getting actually bored, reading what takes your fancy, and seeing where your imagination leads you. We've authorized only the one dance or music extracurricular our kids absolutely beg for... but they get the Drive to take Five (APs) from the culture as at large, from their friends, from the schools, from the college counseling sessions. Yes, schools and parents say, "Keep your work levels manageable" and "get enough sleep," but those messages lose power against the constant companion text that if you don't take *every* highest lane class, and ace them, then colleges won't want you. "Get enough sleep, it's important. Here's another three hours of reading with notes due tomorrow."
School administrators and teachers are not intentionally doing evil. They aren't doing evil at all. They are trying their best with a confused situation. And there are many, many kids who are not crushed by this system, so it makes sense that some people will think it's not broken. But for every poor soul who reaches this dreadful breaking point, there are surely several more who are just as distressed, even if they are not acting out in the same way. We can't just dismiss them.
We need to imagine how we can reformulate what "doing well in school" means so that more kids could have that lovely experience without being so terribly stressed. I wish I could say how, but that will take the whole community, working together, to figure out.
Posted by very sad and angry parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 3:09 pm
I am so mad and angry for not speaking up when P.J. commited suicide. This time we the community and the parents need to meet and find out what are we going to do in order to stop killing our kids. Obviously the counselors are not reaching our kids, parents are notreaching our kids either. I was at the school during lunch time. I thought counselors were going to be ready to take kids. To my sorprise they were at a meeting. They told me to come back in one our. I insisted and told the person at the desk why was I there. She saw me a very nice and understandable counselor. While I was there, students went in to ask for a counselor they were told she was not there, and they went back outside. This is sad. Later after I finished talking to the counselor I finally saw Carol Z. talking to a couple (parents)
Posted by YSK, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 3:15 pm
Cal Train isn't killing our kids. Our kids are killing themselves. Taking away their own future, and forever impacting the lives of everyone around this tragedy. Their family, friends, school mates, the Cal Train personnel, police, emergency crews, witnesses.
The train is not an evil entity that roams Palo Alto seeking our unhappy loved ones. It is something one must go to in order to have it hurt you.
As I know on a personal basis, there is nothing you can do if a person is determined. The girl who took her life last year that I saw left the Churchill Ave crossing, only to trespass farther down the line.
What we have to do, and it's by no means infallible, is check in with our kids, loved ones, friends, and check in OFTEN. If we sense anything at ALL is amiss, try to help.
That's all we can do! My heart breaks for everyone in this, the entire community is lessened each time we lose another member, especially a young person!
Posted by Mike, a resident of Los Altos, on Jun 3, 2009 at 3:21 pm
Yes, I agree with anonymous. Many posters are missing the point. Talking about a safe crossing over train tracks has nothing to do with the mental well being of today's youths. Though I don't disagree with making rail crossings safer for all and not just the ones attempting suicide, the issue on hand is about the well being of people (not just youth).
Kids, parents, teachers, administration, friends, family, etc ... we all need to take a little more time to get to know one another and also reach out more. My wife and I have no problem talking to complete strangers and brightening their lives with nice conversation and by doing so, it makes them feel that much more included. Even the most outgoing people suffer from self doubt, depression and other negative thoughts every once in a while. I do not know what puts them over the top, but we need to keep that from happening and by communicating more, that could only help. And communicating doesn't have to be a grilling, it could be just more interaction.
The BEST thing you can do for your kids today is to have a family meal EVERY night together with no TV or cell phones or texting going on. I remember a recent study that shows private tutoring, private schools, after school activities, expensive gifts or cars ... none of these amounted to anything better than the simple idea of sitting down with your kids each night and completing the idea of family. It's simple. Do not get caught up with getting ahead and take the time to appreciate what you have. It may not be here tomorrow.
Posted by Out of Gunn, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 3:40 pm
As the parent of a recent Gunn graduate, I beg people to examine the environment at that school. There are serious problems, particularly with regards to how some of the faculty treats students. Highly competent and talented students can end up feeling like crap about themselves. I know that these faculty members and the administration will cry foul, but its time to take a close look at really happens at Gunn.
Posted by Person, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 3:41 pm
We are all such fragile human beings trying to be the right person and do the right thing when we are teenagers. Not having the emotional growth to know who we are and what capabilities we have and know we are a great person. We just can't see into the future to see what awaits us. We may achieve but don't believe we deserve it. The structure is in place throughout our public school years and then after the 12th grade, it is up to each of us to create a new one unique to us.
I think Gunn High School is a fine institution. However, it should take a long, hard look at itself in the area of stress and expectations put on these students. Gunn is a High School, not a College. These are teenagers still forming themselves as individuals. The expectations are that the kids get put under the microscope and pushed to the limits like an adult while supervising them like little kids. A College student has more flexibility to decide his schedule. Teens don't have the ability to process things like adults so why does Gunn push these kids. It isn't right. It is more important to have an emotionally stable person at the end of 12th grade than one who wins all the prizes and high grades but is an emotionally fragile person who doesn't know who to go to for help.
My condolences to the parents of this young woman on this tragic event. It is truly a parents nightmare.
Posted by Frightened parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 4:04 pm
While I agree whole-heartedly with the need to respect the privacy of the families involved, I think that when the time is right, perhaps in a month or so, a task force or investigation should be held to find out more about the underlying reasons for, and the dynamics leading up to, these tragedies. As parents, and as a community, we need information to help us understand when our children, neighbors, and friends may be at risk for suicide. I hear are general theories about homework, grades, stress, parental pressure, etc. We need specific information to help us understand what the red flags are so we can work within our own families and community to counter-act this devastating trend.
Posted by Junior, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 4:11 pm
This is completely ridiculous. To all the people blaming Caltrain, social networking sites, school pressure, etc... they aren't the problem. Caltrain is simply being used as an avenue for suicide, they are powerless to stop it. Even if Caltrain ran behind two enormous concrete walls, people will still find a way to kill themselves if they really want to. Facebook and Myspace aren't to blame, both JP and Sonya were loved by the Gunn community and their friends. I doubt school pressure was a problem either. Both students were highly successful in their studies, both were naturally talented, and both had a lot going for them.
Even though the community may not want to admit it, the fault lies with the adults in Palo Alto. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Grief counseling and a meeting to discuss how to help their children and take care of them? Why does it take a death of a student to realize that suicide is an issue in the community? Why does it take a death for parents to realize that many children are depressed? Why does it take a death for the parents to finally decide to reach out?
Before blaming organizations that have no power whatsoever, look at what you yourself could have done. Hopefully today will be the last day that Gunn has to face a tragedy of this sort.
Posted by parent, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 4:13 pm
You are right, I do think kids are helping other kids--in the way they know how. Which is good, but as you say, not enough. It is obvious that we (parents, schools, community) need to step in and offer our help. I would love to hear suggestions from teens about how parents, counselors, etc., can get teenagers to open up. I realize a lot of it has to do with trust, but knowing some of the things teens would like to have available to them is a good start.
Posted by YSK, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 4:26 pm
I do have one thing to say on the academic side of all of this. This most likely doesn't apply in the case of the young lady we just lost, but it seems to be a huge problem for the kids posting.
If you read the most consistent thread running through the student comments on this forum, you can see these kids are stressed at school. This is nothing new to this community. I know my daughters experienced and complained of the same extreme stressors during their school years here. I also know from talking to a school counselor that many parents DO push their kids too hard. I was not one one of them, but I was acquainted with quite a few. I wanted my kids to pace themselves, and if I knew they tried their best, or had an off day but picked up the pace another, that was good enough for me. I can't tell you how many times I heard parents at school complaining about their child's academic performance. How many teachers have endured a parents wrath for a child not performing as expected. How many times I talked to counselors who were surprised by my moderate approach toward my kids Palo Alto education. I was told more than once that my attitude is not typical for this area. This didn't make my kids slackers, it simply put them in a bit more control of their own schedule and even then, their life was crazy. Never more than 5 hours sleep!! I can't imagine how the kids in the high pressure households manage!!!!!!!!!!! I know that in my daughter's groups, there were kids who were anorexic, who drank, smoked, took drugs, and acted out in other ways that could be deemed harmful. These were kids that got excellent grades, participated in sports etc. Their constant striving for perfectionism caused them to seek those activities as ways to control their own lives, as well as outlets for blowing off steam.
The stress the kids put on themselves is bad enough. Do you know the stigma attached if you are not leaving town to go to college? Right now is probably the first time in a long time that having to go to community college won't be the blight it was before, with this economy being a great equalizer. If you were the kid that stayed behind to attend community college, a trade school, or work, you were immediately put into another class of person by your peers. In a place where for so long so many had so much, some kids did not understand that their wonderful options were not everyone's options. More, denigrating someone for a different choice is not conducive to understanding others or for your own character development.
I found 'NO's comment very interesting about parents leaving the kids alone, giving them their space. We knew so many kids that, as long as their grades were good, as long as they were 'producing', were given free reign to do whatever they pleased. Such freedom at such a young age is not the best idea. Just because a kid does well in school doesn't mean that they will necessarily make good choices in other areas of their lives.
I think we need to back off and reevaluate our educational process. I think the parents should themselves educate themselves on how they may be adding to the problem instead of helping to alleviate it. We all love our kids and want them to excel, but at what cost? I think the teachers are under fire to make these kids perform to (what is for some) impossibly high standards, and the kids themselves feel distanced and alienated if they are not performing up to the standard of the next kid. In the middle of all of this, we are having a HUGE communication break down, and in that process, we are losing our beloved children.
Posted by Gunn parent 2, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 4:42 pm
I agree with you that it is important to have an emotionally stable person at the end of 12th grade, but I do not think Gunn pushes students. Over the pass few years, Gunn became less liberal, and more conservative. For example, students did not have to take Physics 1A before taking Physics AP. Gunn had many nationally recognized students 3 years ago and earlier. It sounds like Gunn students were more focus and happier. Maybe Gunn thought they pushed students too much a few years ago; but holding students back is worse. Students only get bored and frustrated, less productive (busy works), and less happier.
Posted by Gunn Family, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 4:48 pm
Hi, I'm a parent of two teen boys at Gunn (Senior & Junior). I posted quite a bit here in the forum when the JP tragedy occured.Rather than to spend time posting now, perhaps it would be better for some of us to meet informally, as community members, to support each other through this, in a more personal way. I will be at Bol Park, near the playground, with some chips, snacks & waters set on some blankets, this Friday evening at 4:00pm, should anyone just want to connect in a small group, to share with each other. All ages are welcome. Thanks. Many prayers for Sonya's family. We're all with you.
Posted by Sue, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 5:10 pm
TEENS and PARENTS need to try and make it to the Community Forum Thursday evening 7:00 at Cubberly Auditorium. We need to come together as a community to try and make sense of these tragedies and LISTEN to each other. Hopefully we leave the forum feeling a little hopeful. My heart and thoughts go out to Sonya and her family and all the other families who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Posted by Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly, on Jun 3, 2009 at 5:13 pm Bill Johnson is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
A message from Palo Alto Online & the Palo Alto Weekly:
We are acutely aware of the concerns, expressed by some in the comments above, that media coverage of suicides can potentially lead to an increased risk of suicides by other vulnerable individuals. Mental health professionals suggest that the media and others be very careful about speculating about the reasons for a suicide and understand that suicides are a result of many complex factors and should not be over-simplified. The Center for Disease Control recommends that details of suicides be kept to a minimum and that the victim not be glorified in media coverage or in online forums.
At the same time, there is also general agreement that it is healthy for there to be opportunities for the sharing of feelings and to grieve as a community, and we hope Town Square can play a helpful role in providing one venue for that conversation.
Please respect the fact that the family of this young woman and her friends and teachers are in the early hours of coming to grips with what has happened and we can best respect them by not engaging in speculative discussion or expressions of anger regarding the possible causes or contributing factors.
While we believe this forum can provide a helpful outlet and source of support among community members, please use it thoughtfully and quietly, and consider the effects your words might have on those who may need help of their own during this sad time.
Our screening and editing of comments will be done with a goal of achieving this balance, and we are restricting new comments to registered users with a goal of discouraging insensitive comments made by completely anonymous individuals.
Posted by MJM, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 3, 2009 at 6:12 pm MJM is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
I have 2 sons at Gunn, a senior and sophomore. Seeing depression is hard. Boys don't talk much and girls may put on a happy face--easier to pretend than to explain. After JP's tragic death, Gunn did several things: brought in additional counselors--saw over 70 students, many of whom came in on their own or with a friend; worked with teachers to try to help them "see" what might be wrong--dark messages in writing, art, etc; helped teachers cope with the loss--a lot of the teachers are young and just starting their own families; set up support groups for the kids JP was involved with--tennis, camp anytown. And the result was a few kids were hospitalized for evaluation. The kids who were hospitalized may have been saved. Depression is not the "blues". Clinical depression is usually not something that will go away by talking. It often takes medication (and that can take time to get the right drug and dose) and hospitalization may be required to do that properly.
But the question is how do we identify and reach the other kids who are out there hurting and need our help? As parents, we need to learn all we can about teen depression. And the school needs educate everyone on campus (it could be an aid or a coach) to identify key signals of concern. And we all need to work together to keep our kids healthy. Let's learn from this and work to make sure it doesn't happen again.
And parents, we need to de-stigmatize depression and other forms of mental illness and support each other and the kids.
Posted by Palymom, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Jun 3, 2009 at 6:43 pm Palymom is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
To the children of Palo Alto:
You are loved. You are accepted. What ever would drive you to the depths of despair is not worth it. It doesn't matter if you are in the worst situation you can ever imagine for your life. Time goes by and time heals. Remember that people love you and want you in their life even if they are completely disappointed in you at the moment or you think they will be.
We LOVE YOU. Stay alive, stay with us. Life is beautiful. Give it a chance. Take your grandchildren to Disneyland. Make your dreams come true.
Posted by Another Gunn Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2009 at 8:00 am Another Gunn Parent is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
"I was at the school during lunch time. I thought counselors were going to be ready to take kids. To my sorprise they were at a meeting. They told me to come back in one our. I insisted and told the person at the desk why was I there. She saw me a very nice and understandable counselor. While I was there, students went in to ask for a counselor they were told she was not there, and they went back outside."
If this is true, this is very alarming and completely unacceptable under the circumstances. Not one counselor available during the lunch hour yesterday for kids who are reaching out to reach out to. Shameful.
Posted by hcc2009, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2009 at 9:27 am hcc2009 is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
I have to agree with some of the comments about the Gunn H.S. culture. I was shocked on my child's first day as a freshman (I was working the registration line). There was loud rock music playing, older kids in costumes and face paint ... it felt like Berkeley circa 1975. So in addition to being pressured to be geniuses in the classroom, our kids are also getting the message that you ALSO need to be ultra hip, ultra cool, big partier, creative, and wild. My thought at the time was "After this, what's left to look forward to? College will be a let-down." PAUSD cares more for its image than for the children it is supposed to serve. Perhaps we all need to honor the memory of our lost children by speaking up to PAUSD on matters such as this.
Posted by pat, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2009 at 9:55 am pat is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Another Gunn Parent: The comment about the counselors bothered me, too.
The teen years have got to be the toughest time of life, especially in this area. Kids are stereotyped and often not listened to. Even the brightest, hardest-working have an uphill battle when they have to get over a 4.0 average to even be considered at UC.
I wonder how many parents/teachers/counselors really know what's going on with their kids. I wonder how many kids trust their parents/teachers/counselors to understand them.
My friend had 2 kids in Monta Vista High in Cupertino -- another high pressure school. Here are just a few of the things she told me:
- Jane's mother told her that Mary, Jane’s friend, had been pregnant and had an abortion. Turns out it was Jane who had the abortion. The mother never knew.
- Her kid was called "pizza face" when her skin broke out.
- As a B student, her kid felt like a complete failure. Teachers reinforced that feeling.
- Her kids often cried because of the homework load and the difficulties in completing assignments, some of which required video cameras and other things that not all kids might have.
- Her kid was at a party where a 14-year-old boy passed out and would have died from alcohol poisoning if one of the kids hadn't called 911. The parents were upstairs.
- A bunch of girls, driving home from a party, thought it was a great joke to drop one of the girls off in the middle of San Jose and leave her there.
Posted by bru, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2009 at 11:02 am bru is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Your comments are really interesting particularly the examples. I see the way kids act in the world and it does seem like we attach a glory or charisma to those who find ways to be cruel in modes that seem funny or creative. It's all funny until someone gets hurt or hurts themselves, meanwhile everyone still plays the game or laughs. There is something in common to the examples you posted that finds a way for these kinds of things to survive and replicate. No one feels strong enough to go against them in circumstances where it seems funny or popular. I cannot believe that girls would dump another girl off in San Jose, for fun. I wonder what is the reward that keeps things things happening and getting worse? It is clear that we have no idea what is at work here though everyone seems to have an opinion.
Posted by CaringMom, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Jun 4, 2009 at 11:06 am CaringMom is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
I went to a small small school in Wisconsin, less than 200 students total. Trust me, there were no pressures to get into Stanford there! We didin't even know what that was! Still, there were two suicides while I was there. One person was adopted and always felt confused about who he was. The other person had some special needs and had a lot of pain with being different. This is such a complicated, painful issue. We need places for the kids to go to relieve whatever stress or pain they are feeling. I'm going to see about working with National Safe Place to bring their services to our community. We need something like that. Is it the big answer? No, but if it helps even one of our amazing young adults, it's worth it.
Please, if you're a young adult struggling, or a parent looking for help, check out their site. The closest National Safe Place is the Bill Wilson Center in Santa Clara. I think bringing a location closer could help some kids. Trying to place fault or blame is really pointless, finding ways to help and give is hopeful.
Sonya, JP and families - our hearts, prayers and thoughts are with you.
Posted by scoop, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, on Jun 4, 2009 at 12:10 pm scoop is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Many of us need to be better informed, mental illness is not something that many of us understand or know much about--- We have been overwhelmed with two instances of teen suicides in a month. Discussions on depression are being scheduled and will take place within the next few weeks.
My concern is that the focus seems to be on depression, I think we need to cast a wider net, suicide is not that simplistic. Parents need to be informed on other mental illnesses besides depression, i.e. bipolar disorders, anxiety attacks etc. They also need to evaluate causes, genetic, stresses, pressures etc. to decide if they factor in on their childrens' well being.