Monday, March 25, 2019

Parkland and Newtown Suicide Cluster

We are in the midst of a suicide cluster. The copycat ripples are reaching wider and wider. Be aware. Talk to anyone at risk.

A contributing factor to suicides being linked to other suicide victims and to other survivors of violent deaths is the "copycat effect."

Canada's Centre for Suicide Prevention states it thusly: "It has long been believed that when suicidal contagion occurs, a suicide cluster can develop. A cluster, in this case, is defined as multiple suicidal behaviours or suicides that fall within an accelerated time frame, and sometimes within a defined geographical area."

In my two books on the topic, Suicide Clusters (Faber and Faber, 1987) and The Copycat Effect (Simon and Schuster, 2014), I define "suicide clusters" as three or more suicides in close proximity with reference to time and space.

A suicide cluster occurs, through word of mouth or a media event, when three or more suicides take place in a restricted setting - a school, a community or a region or state - to those who are similar to each other in age, race, gender, economic status or via similar situations who have died by suicide. If one strongly identifies with the victim, these other individuals may be at risk too. The next victim may feel they had no other choices or options but to do the same thing - take their own lives.

Considering what appears to be happening in real time right now, late in March 2019 - with three deaths by suicide of people closely linked to high profile school shootings - in these cases associated with the events at Parkland, Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Newtown, New Jersey's Sandy Hook Elementary School - this is officially a "suicide cluster."

On February 14, 2018, Valentine's Day, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre occurred in Parkland, Florida. It is one of the deadliest school shootings, with 17 fatalities and 15 injuries. 

On December 14, 2012, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred, resulting in 27 people (20 children and 6 adults plus the gunman by suicide), killed at the school in Newtown, Connecticut. The gunman had killed his mother before coming to the school. 

On April 20, 1999, the Columbine High School school shooting occurred at Columbine, Columbine. The carnage included the death of 12 students, one teacher, and the two 12th grade students (by suicide).

In late March 2019, it became apparent that suicide was haunting the survivors of the Parkland shooting.

On Sunday, March 17, 2019, St. Patrick's Day, a June 2019 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and survivor of the 2018 school shooting, Sydney Aiello, 19, (above) took her own life. The Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office said that Aiello died from a gunshot wound to the head.

Among the victims of the shooting was Aiello’s longtime friend, Meadow Pollack. Aiello was also friends with Joaquin Oliver, 17, another student killed in the shooting. She wrote lovingly about both on her social media following their deaths. 
Meadow Pollack, left, pictured with Sydney Aiello. Courtesy of Andrew Pollack. 

On Saturday, March 23, 2019, another Parkland student died by suicide. The Miami Herald reported that the male student, who was in tenth grade and attended Stoneman Douglas last year, died in “an apparent suicide” on Saturday night. The news came just days after the family of another Parkland survivor, Sydney Aiello, confirmed that she died by suicide after struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt.

Then, on Monday, March 25, 2019, at about 7:00 am, the father of a Sandy Hook student who was killed in 2012, was found dead outside the Edmond Town Hall, the victim of suicide. The body of Jeremy Richman was found in his Connecticut office building Monday morning, Newtown police said.  Richman, 49, was the father of 6-year-old Avielle Richman, who was those killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Richman was one of the individuals who have sued InfoWars' Alex Jones. Police said they "will not disclose the method or any other details" of Richman's death, other than it does not appear to be suspicious.

Richman's death is the third suicide between March 17th and 25th, by survivors of school massacres.


After the Columbine school shooting of 1999, it is felt there have been more deaths, related to suicides.

This week CBS News published what one Parkland parent recalls about the Columbine suicides:
"We tried to get the warning out last year," said Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed at Parkland. He was worried survivors would take their own lives – just like some of those at Columbine High School did. Thirteen people were murdered in that 1999 shooting in Colorado.
"Almost as many people died after Columbine as died during the event, and that was suicide," Petty said.

The internet's oldest site (source) tracking the tragedies in the wake of Columbine gives this limited list:

October 22, 1999 -- Carla June Hochhalter (pictured), mother of surviving victim Anne Marie Hochhalter went into an Englewood pawn shop, bought a gun and shot herself there in the shop. She had been diagnosed with depression before the shootings and the stress of having a daughter paralyzed by the attack on Columbine pushed her over the edge.
February 13, 2000 -- Nicholas Kunselman, 15, and Stephanie Hart, 16, - both students at Columbine - were killed late Sunday night at a Subway restaurant two blocks south of Columbine High School. Nicholas was supposed to lock up the store; Stephanie was there to give him a ride home.
February 14, 2000 -- The bodies of Nicholas Kunselman and Stephanie Hart were discovered at the Subway restaurant around 1:30 AM (Valentine's Day) by another Subway employee who noticed the lights were still on when she drove by. Victim Rachel Scott worked at the shop before she was killed at the school. 
May 4, 2000 -- Greg Barnes, a Columbine High student in his Junior year and a basketball player for the school team, died by suicide (by hanging himself) two weeks after the first "anniversary" of the shootings. He was in the school on April 20, 1999 and escaped without injury, though he saw Coach Dave Sanders die and victim Matthew Kechter was a close friend of his. His father found Greg's body in the garage at 12:15 PM with a CD repeating one song over and over: Adam's Song by Blink 182. He left no note but it is believed the suicide was prompted by a recent break-up with his girlfriend. His death left his family and fellow students at Columbine stunned.
What is clear is that suicides are occurring now, in March 2019. Do your best to ask someone if they are thinking about taking their own life today. Talking about suicide prevents suicides.

If you need to talk, for any reason, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

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