By Mary O’KEEFE and Maddy PUMILIA
The Los Angeles County Coroner has determined the death of a La Cañada High School student who “fell” from a building on campus on Friday as a suicide.
“The autopsy has been completed and it’s ruled as a suicide,” said Ed Winter, assistant chief, Investigation, at the L.A. County Coroner’s Office. The ruling followed an investigation by law enforcement.
The student died from multiple blunt force trauma, Winter said.
LCUSD superintendent Wendy Sinnette held a press conference with LASD Sgt. Scott Hoglund Friday hours after the incident. Sinnette said the student “fell” from the building at approximately 3:55 p.m.
“There appears to be no foul play,” said Sgt. Hoglund during the press conference.
On Friday, Sinnette confirmed it was a LCHS student, but would not comment on age or gender. Sinnette also wouldn’t comment on whether or not there was a softball game being played on the school field when the incident occurred.
But since Friday, several students and friends have spoken about the student.
“I was in utter disbelief,” said LCHS graduate Kevork Kurdoghlian who knew the student. “He was a visionary. He was smart. He was always really one step ahead of everybody.”
He added the student wanted to be a pilot and join ROTC when he went to college.
“He had plans for the future,” Kurdoghlian said. “He was a great guy. He had dreams. He had hopes. He had aspirations.”
The school’s weekend activities were canceled but classes resumed as scheduled on Monday with additional counselors present to offer support to students.
“We ask families to stay close to their children, provide them with emotional support,” Sinnette said. “La Cañada is a very strong, family-like community and we will be there to support each other.”
According to Maureen Underwood, clinical director at The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, even when dealing with an accidental death, teens are vulnerable and those at risk might begin to think about death and dying.
Underwood added that it is important for the school to reach out to the kids.
Counseling services were available to La Cañada High School students at Verdugo Hills Hospital over the weekend. The district covered the cost. LCHS also has resources for parents located on its website http://www.lcusd.net/lchs. The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide’s website is www.sptsusa.org/.
“We have a lot of resources on there especially for parents,” Underwood said.
Sinnette stressed that suicide is not an answer.
“This is a tragedy but not the solution,” Sinnette said. “I don’t want our students to think suicide is the answer.”
On Monday, there were 40 mental health professionals at LCHS who saw about 200 of the approximate 2,100 students that attend the school for grades seven through12. About 20 counselors were on campus on Tuesday.
“As a community, we are devastated and saddened at this loss,” Sinnette said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
At the LCUSD school board meeting a moment of silence was held before addressing the audience.
“Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the student’s family,” said board president Scott Tracy. Tracy called the suicide “an unspeakable tragedy” and complimented Sinnette’s actions and how she handled the situation.
Sinnette said she didn’t think administrators will ever be the same, adding they were immediately on the scene Friday.
“We’ve all come together to care for one another,” Sinnette said Tuesday night.
Sinnette also mentioned that Crescenta Valley High School principal Michele Doll reached out to the school. In February of last year, a CVHS student committed suicide by jumping off a building on campus.
There were CVHS students on the baseball field on Friday at the time of the tragedy. This, in addition to the tragic death of one of their own last year, prompted the administration to bring in added support.
“The district sent up extra psychologists to our school,” said Rene Valdes, associate principal at CVHS.
The CV students have reached out to LCHS students to support and help them.
“People really reached out and we appreciate that,” Sinnette said about those who helped.
Sinnette said that there is discussion on having a security audit performed at the campus to ensure that incidents like this couldn’t happen again. There is an open meeting on the subject on March 19. Sinnette also said the district needs to actively reach out to students and they need to seek help if they are troubled.
Any parent or student who needs support is encouraged to contact their school.
Other hotlines to help those dealing with the tragedy include the Didi Hirsch Mental Health line at (877) 727-4747, California Suicide and Crisis Hotlines at (800) 273-TALK and LA County Department of Mental Health Hotline at (800) 854-7771.