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Parkland Parents Urged To Talk With Their Children After Second Stoneman Douglas Suicide

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FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) - While still grieving the loss of 17 students and teachers more than one year later, the community of Parkland is now mourning the loss of two more students to suicide in less than a week.

First it was Sydney Aiello, whose mom said she suffered from survivor's guilt.

On Saturday night, a male sophomore student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killed himself.

"I think if not all, the majority of my graduating class and other classes experience survivor's guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder," said Kyra Parrow, Sydney's former classmate.

Broward School superintendent Robert Runcie is sending out a robocall to parents telling them to pay close attention to their children after a pair of suicides last week from MSD Students, the latest one on Saturday.

"Parents, it is important for you to talk with your children and be able to recognize signs of personal crisis that could lead to suicide," Runcie said.

Runcie's call comes after an emergency meeting on Sunday with parents and community leaders. They came up with a plan to help parents look for signs of trouble with their teens.

Sunday evening Runcie posted this on Twitter:

Parents along with community leaders met within hours of learning of the most recent suicide to try and come up with a plan for parents to help their kids who may be contemplating taking their own life.

"It is so important to open up a dialogue with your teen or your child and say I'm here for you.  What would you like to talk about? And to say the hard words, have you thought about killing yourself," said Julie Gordon with Eagles' Nest.

Gordon Runs Eagles' Haven.  It opened a week early.  It's a place for MSD students and staff can get help in healing and suicide prevention.

"My heart is shattered," said Tori Gonzalez after learning that a second student took their own life.

Gonzalez lost her boyfriend Joaquin Oliver in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day 2018.

"They get out of the building or they get out of the situation but they don't get out of their own heads is how I look at it. I suffer PTSD, depression, anxiety, but I see someone professionally and talk about," she said.

Ryan Petty's daughter Alaina was murdered that day too.

"I'm just devastated. It hurts that we've got kids who are still suffering," he said.

Petty said if a parent suspects their child is having problems, don't be afraid to talk to them.

"The thing we want parents to take away from this is [to] have those conversations, don't be afraid," urged Petty. "Don't think you're going to give them any ideas."

The group wants parents to ask their kids specific questions.

  1. Have you ever wished you were dead?
  2. Have you had thoughts of killing yourself?
  3. Have you thought about how you might do it?
  4. Have you had intentions of acting of suicidal thoughts?
  5. Have you started to work out details of killing yourself?
  6. Have you done anything to prepare to end your life?

If the answer is yes to 4, 5 or 6, get help immediately and don't leave them alone.

"My message, call 211 in Broward or Miami-Dade you can call 211 [as well]," Petty said. "If you're uncomfortable calling, text 741741, text the letters FL, and you'll be connected to a trained therapist that can help you find the resources you need."

Along with parents, Petty hopes kids will ask their friends these questions too, and not just once.

"If you're not comfortable with the answer you got, ask again the next day," he suggested. "Don't worry about asking your child over and over these questions. Things change, and their feelings about what happened on February 14th may change over time."

Kau Koerber, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, started a non-profit focusing on mental health.

"I think we need to take seriously the rippling effect post-traumatic stress disorder and depression has in our community," said Koerber, "Mental health cannot be ignored."

He looks at this as a good first step but thinks more needs to be done.

"I think people will be more open to the safeguarding of the human lives around them. I think people will galvanize in an effort to protect one another," he said.

The main takeaway from Sunday night's meeting for anyone hurting is that they're not alone.

Cindy Arenberg Seltzer from the Children's Services Council promises that someone will listen.

"What I want the community to know is that we care, we're here. There are resources available to you and you must communicate with your children and children, you gotta talk to your friends," she said.

She is also urging parents to be proactive and to understand that it's ok to bring up the subject.

"I know there is a fear out there [that] asking the question 'are you thinking of hurting yourself or committing suicide' will put the idea in someone's head, and researchers say that's just not true," said Seltzer. "So if you are concerned, ask the question."

Help and informational links:

The Columbia Lighthouse Project:

Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention is Here to Help!

Your first call for help:

Tomorrow's Rainbow:

Children's Services Council:

Also, if you or anyone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, help is available.

Here are some important suicide prevention hotlines:

Broward County:
(954) 537-0211

Miami-Dade County:
Suicide Prevention/SafeNet
(305) 358-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention

There is free counseling and confidential support available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

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