Experts: Quick response is critical

Reaching out to students individually is critical in the aftermath of an incident like Friday's student suicide at La Cañada High School, since many students may not seek counseling, experts say.

It's also important for the school district to contact friends and acquaintances of the victim, and those who may be more affected than other students, such as any witnesses who saw the incident, said Tory Cox, a clinical assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work. “Those are the people you want to connect with immediately.”

Campbell Forrest Taylor, a 17-year-old senior at La Cañada High, jumped to his death from the third-floor walkway of the junior high building on campus on March 1 at around 3:55 p.m., authorities said. Students and staff mourned Taylor's death at a candlelight vigil over the weekend.

A similar incident occurred in February 2012 at Crescenta Valley High School when a sophomore, Drew Ferraro, jumped to his death from a three-story building during lunchtime.

School districts can help to prevent suicides by creating a system in which students can give tips anonymously to authority figures, said Cox, since there is usually a hint or indication that a student is at risk.

“In almost every situation, somebody has been told,” he said, adding that if a student starts giving away possessions or making fatalistic comments, it's a warning sign.

The reporting system is “hard for students to do,” but it is important for them to take warning signs or hints seriously, he said.

Talking and listening to a teen who may be going through a hard time is also important, said Will Moffitt, chair of the Community Prevention Council.

“Starting the conversation can be daunting, but ask if is there anything someone can do [for them],” he said.

Moffitt said the biggest thing individuals in a community can do is to be friendly when noticing that a child or teen is depressed. “Be open and available and listen.”

Moffitt also said while the school district should be respectful of the family, officials should address the suicide.

“We shouldn't sweep the suicide element away,” he said. “This is the opportunity to talk about it.”

The school district has done a “tremendous” job handling the incident, he added.

Wendy Sinnette, superintendent of schools, said the district responded promptly on Friday.

“Our efforts have been extraordinary,” she said during Tuesday's school board meeting.

“Staff was immediately on the scene and they were working with medical professionals, law enforcement and the family while providing immediate grief counseling to students.”

The school district connected with Verdugo Hills Hospital, which offered free counseling to more than 40 students during the weekend, according to Joanne DeMarco, clinical director of geropsychiatric services at Verdugo.

Sinnette said the school district is working hard to prevent copycat incidents. “One of the things that we're very careful about in this situation is suicide contagion.

“We want to build resiliency in our students so that they understand that suicide is never the answer,” she said.


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