Student dies on Skyline High School campus
December 18, 2012
By Caleb Heeringa
Skyline High School students and a Sammamish family are mourning the loss of a 16-year-old student who committed suicide on the school campus Dec. 13.
Sammamish Police Administrative Sgt. Jessica Sullivan said dispatchers got a call from the teen at about 9:30 p.m. The teen told police he was in the lower student parking lot and intended to kill himself. Police arrived six minutes later and found him dead just outside of his vehicle from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Sullivan said the teen was alone at the time.
More than 150 students and friends gathered at Skyline for an impromptu memorial for the teen Dec. 14, placing candles on the ground and consoling each other.
How to help
In an email to parents, Skyline High School Principal Lisa Hechtman urged parents to provide a safe, sensitive environment for their children to express their grief, and to empathize with them rather than attempt to change their feelings or cheer them up. She suggested that parents keep an eye out for signs of grief in their children, including sadness, anger or irritability, anxiety, loneliness, numbness, indifference or detachment, or physical ailments like headaches, stomachaches, nausea or a change in appetite. Skyline’s counseling center can be reached at 837-7887.
What to know
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the 24-hour King County Crisis Center at 206-461-3222. There is also a teen line available from 6-10 p.m. every day at 206-461-4922. The National Suicide Prevention hotline is 1-800-273-TALK toll free. Or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Source: American Association of Suicidology
Marc Hillestad, who coached the teen on the Skyline track and field team, remembered him as competitive and dedicated in athletics, and warm and personable with coaches and teammates.
“I’ve been in education 21 years now. You lose them, but it doesn’t get any easier,” Hillestad said in an interview. He “was just coming into his own last season. He was probably one of the most improved guys from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”
Hillestad said he was looking forward to seeing the teen continue to grow as an athlete and person.
“I saw a lot of promise,” said Hillestad, explaining that the things he saw in the teen were things that made him want to be a coach. “Because of his work ethic and the progress he would be making … That’s what makes it tough: It affects everyone else that is left behind — his family, his teammates, his friends.”
Sullivan said police responded to the school as quickly as possible when they received the call from the teen, who hung up on the dispatcher and did not pick up the phone when the dispatcher called back. The Sammamish Police Department is just across 228th Avenue Southeast from Skyline, but all of the department’s units were out in the city when the call came in.
Sullivan said the matter of where the teen obtained the gun is under investigation.
Skyline High School’s gymnastics team was having an event at the school that was just wrapping up when the incident occurred, and the school’s wrestling team had just returned to the school after an away match, but Sullivan said none of the student athletes were in the area when the incident occurred.
“They were on the opposite side of the school from where all this happened,” Sullivan said.
The school had extra staff members on hand the next day to help students and teachers cope with the incident.
“We have a crisis plan in place, which includes extra counselors, outreach to students and staff we know were close to the student, and preparation by all of our staff to help students process and to be watchful for signs of grief,” Principal Lisa Hechtman wrote in an email to parents the day after the incident.
Issaquah School District spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said administrators informed staff members of the incident before school Dec. 14. Counselors also identified close friends of the student and informed them that morning. The rest of the school was advised of the incident by their first-period teachers.
“No matter what you do, it’s a really hard thing to handle,” Niegowski said. “We try to be on the lookout for students and staff that look like they want to talk about it or may need a little bit of extra attention.”
Niegowski said the incident was doubly troubling for students and staff, given the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school Dec. 14, in which 20 children and eight adults died.
“It’s been a rough day for public education in general,” she said.
Reporters Warren Kagarise and Lillian O’Rorke contributed to this report.