Palo Alto Mother: "Oh No, Not Again"

By Lori Preuitt and George Kiriyama
|  Saturday, Jun 6, 2009  |  Updated 1:24 PM PDT
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Dave Waycie

At 8:30 p.m. Thursday night, a Gunn High School student walked on the tracks near campus in an apparent suicide attempt.

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Teen Attempts Suicide on the Tracks

It appears another Gunn HS student has attempted suicide

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When a Palo Alto mother heard the news, she said, "Oh no, no again."

That was the reaction Thursday night to news that a third Gunn High School student wanted to kill himself on a Caltrain track.

The first two were successful.  Number three was saved by his mother and a passing motorist.

At 8:30 p.m. Thursday night, the Gunn student, who has not been identified, walked on the tracks.

His mother said he was acting "weird" so she had followed him.  She found him on the tracks on East Meadow Drive, which is the same basic area where the two other teens killed themselves in recent days and weeks.

The two began struggling and arguing on the tracks. Police say a passing motorist saw the struggle and joined the mother in her effort.  The driver called 911.

The two were able to restrain the teen until police arrived.

"They managed to confront the young man and keep him from hurting himself," said Dan Ryan of the Palo Alto Police Department.

Ryan later called the driver a hero.

During the struggle, 911 dispatchers notified Caltrain who sent an urgent call to a train operator in Mountain View to hold a train at the station until the boy could be removed from the tracks.

A month ago, JP Blanchard, a junior at Gunn, walked in front of a Caltrain to his death.

Then, Tuesday night, graduating senior Sonya Raymakers also killed herself by standing in front of a train.  Raymakers' funeral will be held later today.

The suicides and suicide attempt have some thinking about the movie "Heathers".   The 1988 tragi-comedy had a message that parents' and teachers' hysteria over the mysterious tragedy of suicide may spark teens' suicidal impulses.

"As a parent I'm just as devastated," said Sheri Johnson, a parent of a Gunn student. "I want to know why. I want to know what was going on."

Thursday night's suicide attempt took place as hundreds of parents and students attended a meeting at a community center in Palo Alto to discuss suicide and depression.

"It sets up a kind of pattern where somebody has been having thoughts about it might find it easier to do," said Dr. Bruce Bienenstock, a child psychiatrist. "I think it puts us all higher on alert to be sensitive to what's going on with them right now."

A Palo Alto police patrol car was parked near the Caltrain tracks in Palo Alto Friday morning in an apparent attempt to keep an eye out for any further attempts.

One Gunn student started a Facebook page in the wake of the suicides.  McKay Daines said he it has been hard because he's been thinking about graduating and not thinking about having to go to a funeral.

Through Facebook, Daines is getting together groups of people to sign up for shifts to keep an eye on the tracks.  He hopes to get the first shift of students on duty in the next few days.

 

24-hour a day Bay Area suicide prevention resources:

 

 

Bay Area Suicide and Crisis Intervention Alliance

 

Adolescent Counseling Services, the group that organized the  forum, is working with Gunn High School on "next steps and where we go from  here," said Scott Laurence, an administrator at Gunn High School. Caltrain is  also planning a safety education program at Gunn in the fall, Dunn said.

Various resources are available for Santa Clara County residents experiencing a crisis, including a 24-hour suicide hotline that offers  counseling over the phone. Many of the volunteers who staff the line have  survived a loved one's suicide, said Gabby Olivarez, a senior mental health  program specialist with the county and manager of the suicide prevention  program.

The county also runs a suicide survivors' group where residents who have lost loved ones meet and support one another.

Olivarez said a basic mental health education can help parents and others recognize warning signs of suicidal behavior.

Those include disengaging from friends, family and social  networks, losing interest in activities, and talk of suicidal thoughts.  However, other signs can be less clear, she said.

"Feeling depressed, lack of sleep, no energy, fatigue: those are really signs of depression that can be linked to suicide," she said.

Teens who are still developing a sense of self-awareness often don't recognize they have a problem, she said.

"Younger people are very impulsive and more likely to do something and not think about it," she said.

However Olivarez said that in her experience, "there is always some kind of sign."

The hotline, which can see up to 100 calls a day, especially  around the holidays, is taking many calls from people who have lost their  jobs and struggling with financial issues, she said.

The service is staffed 24 hours a day. Residents in the north county can call 650-494-8420, and residents in the south county can call 408-683-2482.

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