THORNDIKE, Maine — Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the suicide late Monday or early Tuesday of a 13-year-old girl. The girl has been identified as a sixth-grade student at Mount View Middle School in Thorndike.
“It’s just a horrible case to have to work on,” Chief Deputy Jeff Trafton of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday, adding that the matter is under investigation.
The girl died at home, he said. The BDN is choosing not to name the student.
“The students were very highly impacted by the tragedy,” Heather Perry, RSU 3 superintendent, said Wednesday, adding that there are about 100 students in the sixth grade at the school.
Perry sent out an email alert to all district parents Tuesday afternoon telling them about the suicide and letting them know that the school crisis team had met that day to develop a plan to help grieving students.
“The RSU 3 community has suffered a terrible tragedy,” wrote Perry. “We believe it is important to let the community of parents know about this tragedy as soon as possible so that you may be aware of and prepared to address the impact this may have on your son or daughter.”
At least 10 counselors and members of the crisis team have been available to help students process the event, she said Wednesday, adding that there are well over 1,000 students in the K-12 Mount View school complex.
Trafton said the investigation is considering reports that the girl had been bullied.
“We have heard the rumor of bullying, and we are looking into it, but we don’t know yet,” Trafton said.
Perry said that school officials were aware that on three separate occasions in the past, students came forward to report that the girl was being teased. The superintendent said the teasing never rose to the level of bullying.
“Each time there was an allegation, it was followed up on,” she said. “It never got to a point of bullying.”
Later this spring, the school is going to hold a suicide prevention forum for children, she said.
On Tuesday, lawmakers strongly supported a bill to require suicide prevention training in Maine schools.
“As a school system, our hearts and prayers go out to the family,” Perry said. “We are going to continue to do all we can to support the children and families of this community as we work through the grieving process.”
Chip Perkins, the middle school guidance counselor for RSU 3, said that in 20 years of working in education in both Maine and Tennessee, she has never before had a sixth-grader commit suicide. The girl is the youngest person to kill herself in the school district, which has had three or four teenagers commit suicide in the last few years.
According to the Maine Suicide Prevention Program, approximately 20 youths in the state die by suicide every year. It doesn’t specify their ages.
“Sixth grade is too young. We should never lose them,” Perkins said. “It’s a horror, it really is. It’s a huge, huge, huge loss. And it scares us all to death.”
School district officials, leery of copycat suicides, are working to find the right balance of remembering and honoring the girl who died without giving too much credence to or glamorization of suicide.
“We have other students at risk, and we don’t want to lose anybody else,” Perkins said. “My students have really rallied. The staff has really rallied. If anything good can come out of anything bad, it is seeing the strength of this community. Parents are willing to do anything to keep these kids safe. I love that.”
Chip Perkins, middle school guidance counselor for RSU 3, offers these tips to parents: As she has been talking to district parents about the suicide, and their concerns for their own children, she has been trying strongly to get one message across — conversation and caring are the best defense against suicide.
“If parents become aware that their student or child has suicidal thoughts, they have to talk to them about it,” Perkins said. “[Students] have to be told by adults who know better that these thoughts are telling you lies. [The thoughts] are telling you it’s not worth living. That’s not true.”
She said that if adults see behaviors that are concerning to them, they must talk to the child about it, and ask the child if he or she has had suicidal thoughts.
“If they say ‘yes,’ you ask them if they have a specific plan. If they say ‘yes,’ you sit down and say, ‘OK, we have to make a plan for life,’” Perkins said. “It starts with someone caring enough to talk to them and digging deep, and talk about things they’re not necessarily comfortable with.”
Parents are very equipped to talk to their kids, even when teenagers act like they don’t want to talk to anybody, the guidance counselor said.
“You’ve got to convince them that you love them and want to help them. That’s what they want. Even though they say they don’t — they do,” she said. “The danger of adolescence is that they don’t know there’s a future. Everything’s immediate. Everything feels like it will last forever. Adults have to keep reminding teenagers it can get better. It can change.”
For questions or concerns, call the Maine Crisis Hotline at 888-568-1112 or chat with a counselor at imalive.org.