School officials react following death of Brattleboro middle-school student


HOWARD WEISS-TISMAN, Brattleboro Reformer

BRATTLEBORO -- Mental health experts and counselors responded to the Brattleboro Middle School early Monday after a student died of an apparent suicide.

While the death did not occur at the school, the district just after 9:30 a.m. on Monday sent an automated phone call to parents, regarding the incident.

"We wanted to alert parents that something happened and that we were working with their children," said Windham Southeast Superintendent Ron Stahley. "We want them to know that if their kids come home and they feel like their kids need attention, we want to hear from them."

As a policy, the Reformer does not report the name of suicide victims, nor does it generally report the events.

The call from Brattleboro Area Middle School Principal Ingrid Chrisco went out early Monday to families enrolled in the middle school and high school.

Stahley said it is district policy to inform parents about a suicide.

Counselors from throughout Windham Southeast Supervisory Union were at BAMS Monday, and will be there for the next few days, Stahley said, to work with students.

Stahley, who spent all morning at the school, said BAMS remained open and would be open for a regular school day Tuesday.

"Everyone up there is doing as well as can be expected, but it takes a long time to get through something like this. It is a tough process," Stahley said. "A lot of kids are affected by this, and a lot of staff, too; it’s a community thing. These are times when you want to make sure kids are thinking about each other, and adults are thinking about their kids. We have to do as much as we can to support each other."

Officers from the Brattleboro Police Department were called to a residence just after 11 p.m., Sunday, according to a report, and "upon arrival ... (a teen) was found dead as the result of an apparent suicide." The report also stated that the "circumstances surrounding the death" were on-going and that no further information would be provided at this time.

Charlie Biss, director of the Child, Adolescent and Family Unit of the Vermont Department of Mental Health said that it is important to reach out to all students in the time immediately following a death by suicide.

"It is very important for people who knew the student to debrief," Biss said. "Suicide is huge public health problem, and there is no one answer on how to prevent it."

Each region in Vermont has a designated community mental health agency and Health Care and Rehabilitation Services, or HCRS, covers Brattleboro, as well as the rest of Windham and Windsor County.

HCRS has procedures in place for dealing with suicide, and Biss stressed that the procedures are constantly evaluated and updated as mental health and suicide research demands.

According to Biss, in Vermont there are between six and nine suicides every year committed by youth under the age of 18.

As troubling, he said, are data that show that about 20 percent of the teenagers surveyed in this state say they have thought about it, or have experienced long periods of profound sadness.

"It’s important for everyone to get information on this," Biss said. "This is not a youth problem. It is really a life span concern."

HCRS provides 24 hour emergency support to anyone with thoughts of suicide, as well to family members and friends who are communicating with someone with such thoughts.

An HCRS crisis screener provides individual support and assistance to determine the appropriate level of mental health treatment.


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