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Published: Thursday, 2/9/2006

Bowling Green principal urges parents to help battle child suicides

Bill Donnelly of the Chilrden's Resource Center, left Janet Taylor, Bowling Green High School guidance counselor, and principal Jeff Dever discuss suicide prevention on WGBU-TV. Bill Donnelly of the Chilrden's Resource Center, left Janet Taylor, Bowling Green High School guidance counselor, and principal Jeff Dever discuss suicide prevention on WGBU-TV.

BOWLING GREEN - In the wake of the third suicide among Bowling Green High School students in two years, Principal Jeff Dever made a direct plea to parents last night to have a heart-to-heart conversation with their children.

"Parents need to get close to their child, and they need to get close to their child as soon as possible," Mr. Dever said. "Please know what's going on in their lives."

He made his comments during a live forum dubbed Our Community Cares on WBGU-TV's closed-circuit cable channel.

The forum, intended to get the community talking about suicide prevention, was put together after a BGHS junior hanged himself in a school restroom last week during first period.

Ellen Anderson, a counselor with Person to Person Resources in Perrysburg, said the issue has been taboo for too long.

"I couldn't help but notice we were 20 minutes into the program before the word suicide appeared," Ms. Anderson said.

"We have a hard time saying the word. No wonder people have a hard time asking for help."

Mr. Dever started the program by explaining how he and other staff members responded to last week's suicide, performing CPR on the student until police and paramedics arrived. Teachers were immediately notified, he said, and asked to keep students in their first-period classrooms until the victim was on his way to the hospital.

The school was never in lockdown - despite what some TV news stations reported. He said media was at the West Poe Road school within 30 minutes of the ambulance leaving.

"The problem is [WTOL-TV] Channel 11 took a liberty and said we were in crisis lockdown," Mr. Dever said. "What that does is make people in our community wonder just what is going on where maybe a half-hour after that we would have been much better able to deal with [the media]."

Mr. Dever said students were told what happened, counselors were available almost immediately, and the school did what it could to identify and help students in distress.

More than a week after the suicide, counselors are still working with students and will continue to keep tabs on them, said Janet Taylor, a guidance counselor at the high school.

"The guidance office kept a running list of students who came to the office," Ms. Taylor said. "We are in the process of calling students back down, checking to see how they're doing. We have a two-page list of students we're following up with."

Three groups of panelists took questions from callers during the nearly two-hour program.

One caller asked what parents should do if they think their child is responding inappropriately to the tragedy, including wearing bracelets memorializing the victim.

"Students walk a fine line," Mr. Dever said. "We don't want to glorify the act, but also, this young man was widely respected. He was a friend to a lot of kids, and he came from a wonderful family."

Bill Donnelly, clinical director at Children's Resource Center, said it's natural to memorialize tragedies, and he encouraged parents to talk to their children about their response.

"There's a difference between memorializing my friend and memorializing suicide," Mr. Donnelly said.

He said it's important for students to get back to their routine, but that doesn't mean forgetting what happened.

"Part of the challenge for the school is to return to normal, but also to recognize we just had a big traumatic event that affected all of us, and we need to deal with that - the grief and the loss - and we're still dealing with risk. What do we do to reduce risk?"

Mental health professionals encouraged people of all ages to pay attention when someone they know is showing signs of depression and to help them get help.

In Bowling Green, that means calling the Link, calling the Children's Resource Center, or talking with a clergy person or family doctor.

Mark Haskins, clinical director at the Link, said most agencies will provide services to people with limited or no resources.

Patrick Fitzgerald, general manager of WBGU-TV, said more forums like last night's might be scheduled.

"We're going to leave that open-ended," he said. "We'll see if there's an interest and a need and, if there is, we're certainly interested in continuing it."

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