Hundreds of area residents packed into the lower level of the St. Clair High School gymnasium Tuesday night to attend a forum sponsored by the R-XIII School District to discuss the series of three local teenage deaths that have occurred within the past seven weeks.
The gathering centered on the signs and symptoms of depression and to encourage involvement from community members as well as district personnel so positive steps can be taken in moving forward.
The forum was put together and scheduled after the second student suicide took place on Nov. 2. A third teen took her life on Monday night.
The first death came on Sept. 28.
The youths, all SCHS students, were 16, 15 and 16 years old, respectively, according to information from the school district. The boy and two girls were a junior, sophomore and freshman.
The third fatality came about two hours after R-XIII Superintendent Mike Murphy sent a 6 p.m. "phone blast" to parents and educators reminding them of the forum.
Murphy said students and staff were offered counseling and assistance through several individuals and organizations on Tuesday.
The intent of the forum, Murphy said, was to focus on depression and suicide prevention in the wake of the deaths and to provide education on the subject. The forum took on an added sense of urgency when word spread throughout the day Tuesday about the third incident.
The event originally was scheduled for the SCHS cafeteria, but as more people showed up, it became necessary to move to a larger venue.
Murphy said it appears the three deaths do not appear to be related or "copy-cat" in nature. Investigations determined that the three teens were not close friends and were "not in the same circles."
"Each incident seems to be in isolation of each other," he said.
However, the superintendent also said the district's "greatest concern" is the students.
John Avery, a counselor with CHADS Coalition for Mental Health, an organization in St. Louis formed to help communities deal with adolescent depression and suicide, has been at St. Clair High School this week helping district students and employees deal with the deaths. He addressed the audience Tuesday night during the forum.
He said his intent was to educate those in attendance about changes in an individual's demeanor that may be signs of depression and contemplating suicide. He listed several signs and symptoms.
The second half of the forum was a question-and-answer session. Several adults were critical of the district and complained about a lack of dealing with bullying issues in the schools. Others supported the district.
For more, see the Weekend Missourian.