NYC Public Schools Have Seen 10 Student Suicides In 7 Weeks

Kids need mentoring, virtue, ceremony … purpose and hope in their lives. The epidemic of loneliness and depression is growing.

May our eyes, ears and most importantly our hearts be open to noticing our kids, helping them communicate and creating an atmosphere of true family on our teams.

Thank you for all you do.

Let us remember in our thoughts and prayers all of these families and young people in need.

Virtue = Strength, Lou Judd 
Saving Lives Through Sports


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina said she feels “heartsick” over the fact that 10 public school students have committed suicide since she took office less than two months ago.

According to a report in the New York Post, Farina discussed the suicide epidemic during a private meeting with new school principals on Saturday.

The statistic has not been made public. The Post said it received a recording of Farina’s comments delivered at the prestigious Stuyvesant High School.

“As chancellor, I’ve been on the job seven weeks, and there have already been 10 reported suicides. We cannot allow those,” Farina said, according to the paper. “I get those e-mails all the time. And it makes me heartsick.”

A Department of Education spokesperson later confirmed none of the suicides in 2014 have happened on school property.

Farina urged the principals she was addressing to identify the lonely and troubled kids and reach out to them.

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Jeff Seidel: Families honor star-athlete sons by spreading suicide awareness

Justin Lowry and Brendon Fitch were both 6-feet-2, one a pitcher from Waterford and the other a Swartz Creek quarterback. They were 17 years old and seniors in high school. They both committed suicide. The Free Press generally does not publish names of suicide victims. But the two families agreed to share their stories, hoping that good can come from tragedy, that others can learn the warning signs — and help can be found.

Sometimes when she can’t sleep, which happens most nights, Colleen Lowry will go into her son’s bedroom to look at his trophies and medals and try to talk to him. Her 17-year-old son, Justin Lowry, a baseball player from Waterford, took his own life Sept. 3.

Justin saved all his home-run balls. Some are preserved in clear, plastic cases. Others are collected in a plastic bowl. Colleen will pick up one of the balls and read the details that he wrote on the cover — the date, game and approximate distance the ball traveled — trying to reach back in her memory to remember the happy times.

“It’s calm; it’s comfortable,” Colleen said of being in her son’s room. “It’s a good energy because it was a positive time. It brings back the good times, how happy he was. He had a blast. He loved it.”

Justin’s clothes are still hung in the closet. Flat-brimmed baseball caps are hung on the wall, waiting to be worn. And bottles of cologne are on top of the dresser.

“There is no need to put his stuff away — his trophies,” said Brian Lowry, Justin’s father. “We don’t need the space. In the same token, we don’t want to not talk about it, not think about it.”

Above the desk, there is a collage of photos of Justin pitching for Waterford Kettering High School. As a 16-year-old, Justin had an 84-mile-per-hour fastball. He was 6-feet-2, long and lanky, with potential to throw even harder. Colleen still gets a couple of e-mails every day from baseball recruiters who say they are interested in Justin. “It stabs me in the heart,” she said.

Among people ages 15 to 24 in Michigan, suicide has been on the rise — averaging 140 per year in 2006-11, according to the latest numbers from the Michigan Department of Community Health. There were a total of 54 per year in Wayne (26), Oakland (16) and Macomb (12) counties.

And those deaths have left behind grieving families searching for answers, with broken hearts and empty bedrooms.

Justin’s varsity letter is pinned to the wall. Twenty-six trophies are displayed on a shelf that wraps around two walls. Most of the trophies came from a childhood that was spent playing on elite travel baseball teams that crisscrossed the country. Other trophies are from football and basketball.

Four wooden bats are leaning in the corner. “The Good Wood Bats company,” Brian said. “Justin loved these bats.”

Brian is a bear of a man. Big, strong, powerful, with a deep steady voice. His face is covered with a thick, winter beard. An avid outdoorsman and a construction worker, Brian is as tough as they come, but this loss has chopped him off at the knees. It has destroyed him. He loved his son. Loved spending time with him and coaching him.

Colleen will have a blank expression on her face and the tears just run down her cheeks. Like the pain is trying to find a way out. It happens so often that she doesn’t bother to wipe away the tears.

She tried to go to the homecoming football game at Kettering a few weeks after Justin’s death, but all she felt was loss and loneliness. “That was really hard, seeing the other parents and the other kids,” she said, tears coming fast. “This year he would have graduated. Everybody is doing graduation pictures. Getting ready for college. That’s hard. I’m happy for them, but that’s hard.”

Brian and Colleen Lowry still struggle to understand everything — just like they are trying to comprehend why Brendon Fitch, a star quarterback at Swartz Creek High School, took his own life Dec. 10.

“I don’t get it,” Colleen said. She grabbed a box of tissues and wiped her tears. “Why do they think this is an out?” she asked.

Brendon set the single-game state record when he passed for 603 yards in a victory over Flint Kearsley on Sept. 13. That game came one week after Justin’s funeral.

“Did he play baseball?” Brian Lowry asked about Brendon.

He did, and Brian wondered whether the two boys ever played against each other.

Suddenly, the world seemed to shrink and the Lowrys felt a strong connection to this family they have never met.

Nationally, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for those 15 to 24. But the link between sports, depression and suicide is complicated. In general, athletic participation is considered to lower suicide risk. However, a 2005 research project found that highly involved male athletes, defined by those who competed on three or more teams in a single year, were five times more likely to injure themselves in a suicide attempt that year and require medical attention than a non-athlete, according to a nationwide study that was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The study was based on the results of 16,262 questionnaires completed at 151 U.S. public and private high schools.

“I’m purely speculating, but I would theorize that athletes are taught to carry through on things that they are trained to do and not to be put off by pain,” said Dr. Kathleen Miller, a senior research scientist at the State University of New York, who was on the team that wrote the report. “Of course, it’s horrifying to think about.”

That’s the frightening irony. Part of what makes high school athletes great might put them in extra danger to do serious harm when they are experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Which means it is even more important for coaches, teachers, friends and parents to know the warning signs.

Spreading awareness 
On a warm September night, Justin’s friends organized a vigil at Hess-Hathaway Park in Waterford. About 500 people gathered by a gazebo and spilled across the grass of an old baseball field. Desperation hung in the air, as several speakers talked about suicide, trying to teach these students the warning signs.

Amelia Lehto, who works at Common Ground as a crisis line coordinator and is a suicide prevention specialist, held a microphone. “We don’t know the exact cause of suicide,” she said. “But we know that one in four of us will experience some type of mental problem every year and that can be a contributing factor.”

Studies show one in eight teens contemplate suicide. Think about going to a high school football game. Think about all those players on the field and all those kids in the stands who are hurting. Silently. One in eight will think about it.

“We know that talking about suicide does not cause it to happen,” Lehto said.

Lehto lost her best friend to suicide when she was 13, and that led her to this job.

Lehto urged the parents and teens to question their friends and bring up the issue if they see a change in mood or behavior. If they post dark thoughts on social media. If they seem helpless or hopeless. If they start talking about the end. If they have made a plan. It’s OK to ask somebody if they are thinking about suicide. Simply asking and showing concern won’t cause somebody to do it.

“Are you willing to speak out if you are hurting?” Lehto asked all of the teenagers, forcing them to make a vow together.

“Yes,” the kids replied together.

As the sun set, hundreds of lighted lanterns were released into the air. They were beautiful globes of light floating over the field, soaring high above the trees into the night sky.

Brian Lowry stood in the grass, holding a lantern that was burning bright and strong and ready to climb up to the heavens. But the pain was indescribable.

“I didn’t want to let it go,” he said. “It was like releasing him.”

The warning signs 
The kitchen table was filled with food. Submarine sandwiches. Brownies. Cookies. For weeks, family and friends kept bringing over food.

“You want some?” Colleen Lowry asked, pointing at the food. “Here, take a chocolate.”

Colleen was on autopilot, being polite as always. But her emotions were bouncing around. From guilt. To anger. To profound sadness. Back to guilt. She blamed herself. Did she miss a sign? Is there something she could have said the morning Justin did it?

She slumped into the couch and looked at her husband. He studied one of the three suicide notes that his son had left. It was brief and concise. The penmanship perfect and resolute. But there were no real answers. No real explanation.

“We’ve got to do something,” Brian Lowry said.

As they look back, they think they can pinpoint the moment when Justin’s personality began to change. It happened his freshman year. Most of the kids Justin grew up with went to Kettering, but he started at Waterford Mott because the district lines changed before his freshman year. During the first week of school, Justin went to a Mott football game and was involved in a fight. One against several. Justin wasn’t hospitalized. But he felt he had been bullied and was allowed to transfer to Kettering days later, but his parents say he was never the same.

“You could see it in his eyes,” Colleen said, crying.

“He kept a lot in after that,” Brian said. “There wasn’t a lot of sharing with us.”

Justin got through his freshman year and played summer baseball. “That was probably the best baseball I had ever seen him play, but his grades started slipping,” Brian said.

After making the varsity baseball team as a sophomore, things got worse. Colleen said Justin was using marijuana, which is one of the risk factors of suicide. Research has found that mental disorders and/or substance abuse have been found in 90% of the people who take their own lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Justin became withdrawn, had mood swings and trouble sleeping, which his parents and others now recognize are all warning signs of suicide.

The diagnosis 
As a junior, Justin made the varsity baseball team. His father bought him cleats and an expensive new bat. “A week after the team was chosen, he decided he didn’t want to play anymore,” Brian said.

Colleen took him to counseling. Justin was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, which made sense to her when she read the list of symptoms, and he was put on several medications. Bipolar II is a form of mental illness in which an individual experiences mood shifts that cycle from high to low and back to high again over a period of time. The highs include increased energy and rushing from one activity to another. The depressive episodes include difficulty concentrating, sadness and loss of pleasure in activities once found enjoyable.

Like a baseball star quitting his favorite sport out of the blue.

“We thought he’d wake up and want to play ball again,” Colleen said. “It was weird. How can you just stop?”

Brian and Colleen had talked to Justin several times about suicide. Over the last few years, several teenagers from Waterford had taken their own lives — Justin went to at least one of the funerals. And years before, Colleen’s foster brother had killed himself on his 18th birthday.

“We brought that up, lots,” Colleen said.

Though they talked about it in general terms, Colleen and Brian did not know the warning signs of suicide.

At the end of summer, before his senior year, Justin’s demeanor changed. It was like he came out of hell, and he started to act content.

“On the outside, it looked like things were OK,” Brian said.

But even a positive change in behavior can be a warning sign.

“He had decided he was going to do it,” guessed Jenny Marro, Colleen Lowry’s best friend.

Years ago, Marro tried to take her own life when she was 12. Thankfully, more young people survive a suicide attempt than die. Each year in the U.S., approximately 157,000 people between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency departments, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Marro publicly shared her story at last fall’s vigil at Hess-Hathaway, hoping to save somebody’s life, and now she was going through training at Common Ground, wanting to learn how to help others. “He was in so much emotional pain that he didn’t know how to escape it,” Marro said. “He didn’t know who to go talk to. The kid didn’t even share with his friends how he was really feeling. You just want the pain to stop. You don’t know how to make it stop. You are in a hopeless place.”

Tragedy in Swartz Creek 
The pain is still raw in Swartz Creek.

Roger Fitch still doesn’t understand why his son, Brendon, took his own life. “There weren’t a lot of warning signs, if any,” Roger Fitch said. “It was out of the blue.”

Brendon Fitch grew up in Linden but transferred to Swartz Creek High School before his junior football season, which he had to sit out under Michigan High School Athletic Association rules. His mom, Florence, is a teacher at Swartz Creek and he had made several friends at Swartz Creek.

“A very fun-loving kid,” said Dan Murphy, Brendon’s uncle. “He was the life of the party. That’s why this is such a shock to us. We didn’t see any warning signs. ... Brendon was not a kid who was bullied. He was a good-looking kid with a beautiful girlfriend. He was a superstar athlete. He had great friends and a great family.”

Suicide does not have a single face or a single story line. It can affect everybody from the social outcast to the star athlete; young and old; and everybody in between.

In the days and weeks following his son’s death, Roger Fitch learned a different side of his son. How he helped so many kids who were going through struggles. “We got a card, that will never leave my dresser, from a mom who said he literally saved her kid’s life,” Roger said. “He seemed like the kid, in hindsight, who was the last kid who would do this.”

Brendon Fitch, the star who threw for more yards in a game than any other quarterback in state history, didn’t like to talk about his record. “It was like he was embarrassed about setting the state record,” Roger Fitch said. “Didn’t like to talk about it, and I could never figure that out.”

Brendon’s room has remained pretty much as he left it. It is filled with trophies and sports photos, just like Justin’s room. But there was one thing that was different. On a corkboard, Brendon had pinned up newspaper clippings of some of his friends who had died. “Brendon dealt with a lot of kids and parents who died or committed suicide,” Roger said. “I’ve been thinking about that the last week and a half. I think he’s seen more death in his life than I have in my life. A few kids at Linden committed suicide. A couple of parents of his friends committed suicide. A couple kids who died from disease. He still had newspaper articles in his room, about kids committing suicide or dying.”

In Genesee County, suicides among those 15 to 24 have increased, averaging 12 per year in 2009-11, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. Linden Community Schools has taken several positive steps, trying to stop the suicides and attack the issue in several ways. The subject is brought up in assemblies and with various extracurricular groups. And suicide warning signs are posted prominently on the district’s home page. This week, the district is starting a program called Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (SPIRIT), which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice. Starting Monday, 40 students, several staff members and local community members will go through three days of SPIRIT training with a facilitator. At the end of the program, the school will receive a report that will help identify potential school environment problems and possible solutions.

“It’s never over; you have never licked it; it’s never done,” said Ed Koledo, superintendent of Linden Community Schools. “It’s an ongoing effort, in every way we can think of, to shed a light. To constantly stay in front of this thing and never get behind it again.”

But Koledo worries that the national statistics, as well as the local ones, are misleading. Perhaps, this issue is bigger than anyone knows. Because some deaths may be ruled an overdose when they are suicides. “Kids tell me that a kid didn’t overdose, that the kid was talking about ending it, and it was a suicide,” he said.

Roger Fitch has given up trying to figure it out.

“I just miss my friend,” he said.

Trying to save lives 
Brian and Colleen Lowry try to keep living for their other son, 14-year-old Jacob, trying to act normal when nothing feels normal anymore, as they fight the pain and anguish and anger and exhaustion, fighting off the guilt.

Weeks after Justin’s death, Colleen and Brian went on a suicide prevention walk at Kensington Metropark. Unsure what to do, they want to be part of the solution.

Brian always considered suicide a weak man’s way out. But now, he is starting to understand it is linked to depression. “I myself have so much to learn,” Brian said. “I have to first teach myself. But I think we need, as a family, to try and do something, even if it’s just for one person. We gotta do something, man.”

And that is why they have shared their story. Hoping it can help somebody.

The Lowrys are slowly becoming activists. In recent weeks, Colleen Lowry went around Waterford, trying to persuade local businesses to hang up flyers about an upcoming mental-health event at Kettering. The Waterford Coalition for Youth is bringing in Kevin Breel, a nationally known speaker, to talk about mental-health issues. Breel, who battled depression, will give a presentation to the Kettering students during the school day Monday and then will make a presentation to the community that night.

Waterford Kettering principal Jeff Frankowiak declined to comment for this story, but two Breel flyers were posted in the high school office in the last week. John Silveri, superintendent of the Waterford School District, did not return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

“We have had several suicides in Waterford over the last several years,” said Heather Halls, the executive director of the Waterford Coalition for Youth. “We want to destigmatize the notion of mental illness and depression. It’s important for parents and students to know that not everybody who gets depressed leads to a suicide. There are so many options for assistance. It’s an illness. It’s not a taboo subject. And people should feel comfortable to reach out for help. There is support. There is help.”

And so, these families continue to grieve, hoping to spread awareness about suicide, trying to teach people the warning signs, stressing that mental-health issues are treatable and offering hope.

Using their pain to try to save a life.

“I think it will help,” Colleen Lowry said. “It’s not just for Justin. It’s for everybody.”

Some suicide warning signs 
■ Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself. 
■ Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun. 
■ Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live. 
■ Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain. 
■ Talking about being a burden to others. 
■ Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs. 
■ Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly. 
■ Sleeping too little or too much. 
■ Withdrawing or feeling isolated. 
■ Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge. 
■ Displaying extreme mood swings. 
Source: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

How to get help 
If you are thinking of suicide or think somebody is thinking of it: 
■ You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255. You can also go online and chat at
■ You can call Common Ground Crisis & Resource Helpline at 800-231-1127 or find information and chat at Texting is available to 248-809-5550 from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday.