WILKES-BARRE, PA – In the comment section of a recent teen suicide we reported on, the subject of suicides being contagious came up. I didn’t know it at the time, but Luzerne County has lost four teenagers to suicide in the last week, all within 30 miles of each other.
If there are any inaccuracies with the following details, I apologize. I had to read about fifteen different articles and a ton of comments just to hash everything out.
On Sept. 18, 13-year-old Joshuah Delos Santos from Nanticoke shot himself. Bullying seems to be involved, although officials say they have not seen any proof of that. But over at the Joshuah Delos Santos Memorial Fund, his cousin reportedly stated otherwise. “The morning of September 18, 2012, my cousin Joshuah Allen Delos Santos decided to end his life because he was being bullied,” she said. Comments on a Facebook tribute page echoed her claims.
On Sept. 21, in Jenkins Township, 16-year-old Matthew Montagna used a hunting rifle to kill himself at his home. He was a junior at Pittston Area High School and played football for the Pittston Panthers for three years. Again, the subject of bullying was brought up by his peers as well as on a Facebook tribute page. His twin brother wasn’t sure if bullying was the sole reason, but Matt did leave a note that explained his motives.
Three days later, 15-year-old Jamie Ann Baker committed suicide. She was also a student at Pittston Area High School and a member of the Pittston Area High School Cheerleading Team. The sophomore reportedly had a 3.5 grade average and comes from an involved family. I read some rumors that she and Matthew’s suicide were linked, but motive for her taking her own life have not been officially reported.
In light of these suicides, a public forum was organized at the high school to address teenage suicide and grief counselors were being made available for students who wanted to talk. But the day after Jamie killed herself, an unidentified 13-year-old boy from Hazleton killed himself at his home. Very little details on that one, aside from one report stating that on Sept. 25, police were called to a home were a teen had hanged himself.
The forum at Pittston Area High School went on as planned, and featured speakers including Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, Pittston Area Superintendent Mike Garzella, Wyoming Valley Drug & Alcohol Services CEO Carmen Ambrosino and representatives of the Children’s Service Center and the Victims Resource Center.
Bullying has not been identified as the sole cause for any of the teens’ suicides, aside from comments made by peers, but the investigations into their deaths are ongoing. “If bullying played a part in any of these incidents, it will not be tolerated in our schools. It will be dealt with. If we need to press charges, we will press charges,” Garzella informed the crowd.
Some parents and adults in the audience said school administrators have refused to recognize bullying and that if a student does report it, the bullying often goes unpunished. One graduate from the high school drrew applause after saying it wasn’t students who made her feel worthless, “it was some of the teachers.” Garzella said any teacher found guilty of bullying students. or failing to address bullying complaints, would be disciplined.
The Hazleton Area School District also revealed that it is launching a comprehensive bully prevention program headed by Hazleton police Chief Frank DeAndrea. Three years in the making, the program was designed combat modern day bullying that has evolved from pushing and name-calling to a form of relentless, psychological torture.
The program includes a classroom curriculum that will be taught to students from kindergarten through grade 12, and a training requirement for every adult who interacts with the school district from top-tier administrators to custodial workers and vendors.
Again, bullying has not been deemed the sole cause of any of these teens committing suicide, so my following comments are not directly about any of them and are just about bullying in general.
I know that a lot of people feel these kids should “toughen up” and that if they can’t take this kind of bullying now, in school, they are bound to eat a bullet once they experience bullies in the real world. I understand the sentiment, because there is some truth to the fact that some bullies never grow out of that mentality and could possibly be your boss one day. But sometimes I think us older folk look at bullying the way it was when we went to school. Not that it couldn’t be cruel, but often times the activities being directed at someone would not be deemed illegal.
I never experienced bullying growing up, and I’m positive one person out there could consider me their bully in junior high. This gave me a lot of insight when my own kid had to deal with a bully and was able to stop it after I instructed him to punch the boy in the jaw. But that was from my experience with old school bullying, the kind that has existed ever since kids were grouped together in a way in which pecking orders could be established.
Today, with social networking and other tools at someone’s disposal, the psychological aspect of bullying , I think, has far surpassed the physical, name-calling variety. Now days, a kid being picked on isn’t dealing with a small circle localized to their school, but must fight a horde of anonymous hyenas with the smell of blood in their noses.
I read one comment in which someone stated teens killing themselves over being picked on is a result of society raising weaker kids; low hanging fruit so coddled that they cannot handle an activity that will never go away entirely, even as an adult. I don’t have proof to argue against that, but this line of thinking works both ways. What if, instead of mentally weaker kids, society is breeding crueler ones?
Thanks to Della for alerting me to this story over on our Facebook page.Tags: Bullying, Jamie Baker, Joshuah Delos Santos, Luzerne County, Matthew Montagna, Pennsylvania, school, student, Suicide