The suicide of a 13-year old Los Osos girl has prompted school officials to provide crisis support for her peers and the staff at Los Osos Middle School as they grieve her death.
Her parents, school officials and the Sheriff’s Office rejected claims made on a local news website that her suicide was the result of bullying.
“Contrary to a published report, her death was not the result of bullying,” said Tony Cipolla, Sheriff’s Office spokesman. “We performed a thorough investigation, with the coroner looking at all evidence.”
School officials last week began offering counseling on campus and then brought in a trained intervention crisis team of psychologists and counselors to assist students. The school district notified parents of the girl’s death and of the resources available with an automated phone call, said San Luis Coastal Superintendent Eric Prater.
“The teachers and staff at my daughter’s school have been very supportive,” said her father, Bill Buchholtz, in a statement. “Our family does not question nor do we feel that the protection of our kids is not being met.”
Buchholtz said his daughter left a note and a detailed journal outlining some of her personal struggles. He declined to elaborate.
“The issues were what teens face when growing up as they come into adolescence,” he said. “But not all teens go to this extreme. She was coming of age and was confused with some of the feelings she had with growing up.”
He describes his daughter as funny, good in school, respectful and having many friends. Despite struggles with self-esteem in her younger years, she was gaining more confidence, he said.
"Her death completely broadsided us,” he said. “She needed, in hindsight, to speak … needed to be able to come to us and voice what she was feeling.”
Prater said that school officials saw the same girl her father described. “We saw a child who seemed to be doing well in school, who had friends, who was quiet, who was liked,” said Prater. “No one saw this coming.”
The Tribune is not naming the girl because she was a minor.
Several parents contacted the school district concerned about their children’s safety after a report by CalCoastNews tied the girl’s death to allegations of bullying. The concern prompted Prater to draft a letter refuting that claim; it will be distributed today to parents districtwide.
Prater also will include a statement from Buchholtz. “We fully support the efforts of her school and all of the staff,” Buchholtz wrote in the statement.
Prater said school staffs are trained to raise awareness of youth who might be struggling emotionally. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers, according to national statistics.
“In every situation where kids are being bullied or tormented, we intervene as quickly as we can,” he said. “We react with immediacy and integrity to the best of our abilities.”
Buchholtz, who said he never saw signs of depression in his daughter, cautioned parents to be aware of all of their children’s social media and to dig beyond the surface.
“Everything on the cover, like our daughter, seemed bright and shiny,” he said. “But once we started looking at some of her followers, we saw some of them darker, morbid.”
Buchholtz went on to say that no single incident or anything that anyone did, pushed his daughter to suicide.
“I want teens to know that they can get help,” he said. “Seek a counselor, a pastor, a youth group. Speak to someone before going to something so extreme,” he said.
Dave Mayfield, a licensed clinical social worker with the county’s Mental Health Youth Services, said children who have heard of a suicide also may need help dealing with it in a healthy way.
“This really is an opportunity for parents or other trusted adults to start a conversation that can empower children to ask questions,” he said. “Parents can say it would be very understandable to be sad, or angry, or worried about other friends. Validate your children’s feelings and encourage them to talk.”
Give children healthy outlets for expressing their sadness, such as writing to the family or attending a memorial service, he said. Continuing to go to school is important and children who seem depressed after a couple of days may need help, he said.
"It's our job as adults to normalize their feelings and get them help if they need it," Mayfield said.
WHERE TO FIND HELP
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or is in need of help, resources are available. Mental health professionals want you to know that help is available and suicide is preventable.
SLO Hotline: Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This suicide prevention and intervention crisis hotline is free and confidential. Counselors can also provide information on additional resources or mental health programs. 800-783-0607
Mobile Crisis Services: A program of SLO County Mental Health Services, this 24/7 service can offer assessments and referrals in a crisis by phone or in person. 800-838-1381.
911: If someone is threatening suicide, call 911 immediately.
Transitions-Mental Health Association: This nonprofit provides a broad range of mental health services for individuals and families countywide. 805-540-6500.
The following may be signs that someone is at risk of suicide, especially if the behavior is new or sudden. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these signs, seek help as soon as possible.
Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves.
Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun.
Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
Talking about being a burden to others.
Increasing use of drugs or alcohol.
Acting anxious, agitated or behaving recklessly.
Sleeping too little or too much.
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge. Withdrawing or isolating themselves. Extreme mood swings.
Source: U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration