Editor's note: Since this article was posted, the identity of the young man has been released by the Santa Clara County coroner.
In the wake of an apparent suicide at the Charleston Road train crossing this week, the Palo Alto school district and its partners immediately brought in extra counseling support to Gunn High School due to its recent history with such tragedy, district staff said.
A young man, whose identity has not yet been disclosed by the county coroner, was killed by a southbound train around 5:40 p.m. on Wednesday. The San Mateo County Sheriff's Department is investigating the incident in coordination with the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner.
Staff from the nonprofit Adolescent Counseling Services and grief counseling nonprofit Kara, along with Shashank Joshi, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University Medical Center, were on campus all day Thursday to offer support to students, faculty and staff. They met with students and some staff members, said district spokeswoman Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley, and will continue to be available in the coming days.
"It really helped both the counselors and some faculty members understand here's how you can talk with and support students without overdoing it," Superintendent Max McGee said. "Routine is important as well as is listening and interacting with students."
The two counseling agencies are members of the mental health and youth well-being coalition Project Safety Net, and Joshi is a member of its leadership team. The broad collaborative, bringing together city, schools, nonprofits, faith agencies and medical professionals, was formed in response to a cluster of teen suicides in 2009 and 2010. Numerous student efforts sprang up at the time, including website "Henry M. Gunn Gives Me Hope" (HMGGMH), which was created by a Gunn senior to offer a place for students, parents, teachers and alumni to post and share positive thoughts.
Another student group, ROCK (Reach Out, Care, Know), also set up a blog on Tumblr where students can post their thoughts and questions anonymously.
The Health Care Alliance for Response to Adolescent Depression (HEARD), a health-care-provider coalition, was also formed to foster collaboration among primary-care, mental-health and education workers to address depression among teens. Read a HEARD essay on how to help people in crisis.
For many, McGee said, the news Wednesday evening reawakened very recent pain from those years.
"The memory, even though it was several years ago, is still fresh," McGee said.
McGee sent a message to Palo Alto Unified parents and staff Thursday morning to let them know what had happened and to provide information on suicide prevention, care and resources. McGee said that police believe the young man was not a current Palo Alto Unified student.
McGee said that when he heard about a 17-year-old Woodside girl's death by suicide on Tuesday, he sent a message to all high school principals and guidance counselors saying: "Let's be extra vigilant. Things like that worry us all."
The City of Palo Alto also announced Thursday that as soon as that afternoon, increased numbers of track guards would be stationed at the Churchill Avenue, Charleston Road and East Meadow Drive train crossings.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the young man's family and friends during this difficult time," Mayor Nancy Shepherd said in a statement. "As a community, it reinforces the importance of our continued collaborative work to create safe and welcoming schools, and a community culture that offers support, services and hope for all."
The City Council will also adopt a proclamation at its meeting Monday, Oct. 20, in partnership with the school district, Project Safety Net, the district's Safe and Welcoming Schools Committee and the Palo Alto Youth Council to honor Oct. 23 as Unity Day. October is National Bully Prevention Month, and the city plans to join the school district in raising awareness about the issue. The proclamation ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.
The council's Policy and Services Committee is also set to hear an update on Project Safety Net at its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 21.
Palo Alto Police Lt. Zach Perron said the department is increasing patrol checks along the Caltrain right-of-way and urged community members to immediately report any suspicious behavior or any person loitering near the tracks.
"It's been a tremendous outpouring of support and an opportunity to learn from one another and for one another," McGee told the Weekly Thursday. "We're going to continue this tomorrow (and) as long as need be."
There Is Help
Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can also call 1-855-278-4204.
Caltrain recently launched a website with resources for individuals and those seeking to learn more about mental illness and suicide.
Read more: How to help those in crisis