A student at Lanier High School fatally shot himself at lunchtime in a busy courtyard at the school Tuesday, officials said, prompting faculty and parents at the North Austin campus to reach out to students with counseling and support.
The incident occurred about noon. After a brief lockdown, students were sent home early and district officials offered counseling to students and staff members throughout the afternoon.
Alex Hernandez, a junior, said the student was sitting alone in a courtyard outside the cafeteria during lunch when he pulled a handgun from his hoodie.
Dorothy Rivera heard what happened when her daughter, one of three at the school, texted her. Rivera was at the campus before school officials lifted the lockdown.
Another of her daughters, who stood quietly at Rivera’s side after reuniting with her mother that afternoon, witnessed the incident.
“She’s pretty shaken up,” Rivera said, starting to cry. “It’s just a terrible thing.”
School officials provided little information about the incident, including the student’s name, at a news conference across the street from the school Tuesday afternoon.
A wing of the school remained open until 6 p.m. to provide counseling services for students, faculty and staff, and counselors will again be available at the school the rest of the week.
Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said classes will resume Wednesday and students will be able to seek support from their teachers. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the family,” Carstarphen said.
As students cleared the campus Tuesday, faculty and other staff members were meeting to discuss the incident. School district spokesman Alex Sánchez said how the gun got on campus was under investigation.
Friends of the student say he posted a letter on Facebook that included a photo of him with a gun to his head.
Merily Keller, a suicide prevention consultant for Mental Health America of Texas, said students are bound to talk about what happened, and it is critical for parents to acknowledge the event as tragic, but to also offer hope.
“It’s a tragedy that can be avoided if we work together,” she advises parents to tell their children.
She said parents should monitor their child’s social media sites and talk to their kids about it to avoid a downward spiral of grief or trauma, Keller said. It’s important for youths to talk about it, but they need adults who can help and be involved in those conversations, she said.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death of youths between the ages of 15 and 25. Ninety-percent of those who commit suicide have an underlying mental health condition. However, suicide is preventable, Keller said, and there are warning signs. Parents and teachers must pay close attention to any teenager who is upset or is talking about suicide, she said.
“It’s a myth that people who die of suicide don’t talk about it,” she said. The more warnings signs, the greater the risk, she said.
Signs include: feelings of sadness or hopelessness that can also be accompanied by anxiety; declining school performance; loss of pleasure or interest in things the student once participated in, whether it be sports or academic clubs; sleeping too much or too little; major changes in appetite; the inability to concentrate or focus; withdrawal from friends or family; talk about ‘going away’; giving away favorite possessions.
Staff writer Katie Paschall contributed to this story.
SUICIDE PREVENTION TIPS
• Support their child by listening and not criticizing, and keeping communication open
• Get help from either their family doctor or a mental health professional.
• Keep firearms locked up and inaccessible to children. The key to the lockbox must be stored separately.
• Take their friends statements and actions seriously.
• Encourage the friend to seek help and go with them, if necessary.
• Talk to an adult you trust; don’t try to help your friend alone.
For more information, go to www.texassuicideprevention.org. For help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255) or the Austin Travis County Integral Care crisis hot line at (512) 472-HELP (4357).
Source: Merily H. Keller, suicide prevention and postvention consultant for Mental Health America of Texas and Texas Suicide Prevention Council