I just found this letter to the editor originally published in the Centre Daily. I like to highlight some of the few letters that address the media's missed opportunities to educate the public about suicide.
The following letter discusses the
student-suicide shooting that occurred in Montgomery County last week.
I previously explained that Shane Halligan pointed to despair over low
grades and prompt punishment from his parents that put the final nail
in the coffin, which led to his public suicide. I had moments when I
was so upset over my grades that I wanted to kill myself, but Mr. Romer
is right – there is a larger issue at hand that would trigger an
adolescent to suicide. The following is a letter to the editor from
Metro’s Tuesday, December 19, 2006 edition (p. 16):
Correct the myth about suicides
PHILADELPHIA. Regarding “Suicide rocks
school” (Dec. 13): A young person’s violent suicide death in a public
setting is surely a big story – but a dangerous one. Your coverage of
the death is misleading at best and perpetuates a myth about suicide
that has little basis in fact.
We know that such stories prominently
displayed can lead others who lead others who have thought (sic) of
suicide to do the same. Considerable research has found that such
tragic events are preceded by periods of intense mental distress, most
often diagnosable as major depression. This is far more serious than
being “despondent over his grades,” as one official – a lawyer, not a
mental health professional – speculated.
Correcting the myth that some relatively
trivial immediate event caused the death may help others in similar
shoes to get the assistance they need rather than to act on the same
impulse. — Daniel Romer
Mr. Romer is the director of the Adolescent Risk Communication Institute at the University of Pennsylvania
The more I read about Shane Halligan, the more I realize that this 16-year-old had more access to guns and agility with them than most his age. He was an Eagle Scout and had an intense fascination with guns. He also knew where the key to his father’s gun cabinet was located.
It seems a bit of a stretch to hold his parents accountable in the face of such a tragedy but why did Halligan know where the key was located? Why? Was it that they trusted him? Was it because he had taken so many shooting classes and was so well-versed in gun technology that his parents had no reason to fear? It is a tragedy, but one at the very least, parents with guns should learn from:
Never let your child know where the key to your gun cabinet is.
“That fatal mistake was put in motion by Shane Halligan himself. Eagle Scout, fire company volunteer, ‘all-American boy,’ in the words of one parent, Halligan apparently despaired over falling grades. His parents talked of limiting free-time activities until he raised his grades.
Such caring parenting should not have become a life-and-death matter. But Shane Halligan was able to secretly grab his father’s AK-47, smuggle it into school, and shoot himself – with no chance for anyone to talk him safely through his pain.
Why does anyone need such a powerful weapon at home, and how could a teen get his hands on it so easily? Those questions no doubt haunt the Halligan family today.”
Kids might seem well, but teenagers are a volatile bunch. One never knows when a teen might “snap.” With the recent surge of school shootings, I’m not going overboard when I say parents should not allow their children – no matter how old – to have access to their gun cabinet. If your son or daughter does not have a permit to use a gun, s/he should not have easy access to a gun. It’s that simple.
Much of the latest articles surrounding the Montgomery County shooting have focused on better protection for schools and how to prevent children from bringing weapons to school. These focuses are valid. However, focusing on what drives teenagers to performing such actions is also just as valid. The Inquirer has an article on how to spot the signs of depression in teens. It doesn’t cover everything but it gives a bit of help. One thing I do appreciate the article pointing out is that males tend to seem more angry than sad when struggling with depression.
“Young boys and some men tend to manifest this profound depression more in irritability and angry outbursts,” said Nadine Bean, an associate professor in West Chester University’s master of social work program. “Sometimes, a boy is labeled as incorrigible when, in fact, he may be struggling with major depression.”
And why do some students choose school – a public place – to take their lives?
“Typically, those committing suicide at school are looking for a place where they can enjoy greater attention and recognition,” [Ronald Stephens, director of the National School Safety Center, a nonprofit that studies school violence and provides violence-prevention training, in Westlake Village, Calif.] said.
How could “the nicest, kindest kid” bring in a gun and kill himself?
This is the major question on everyone’s mind at Springfield Township High School.
From what I understand about the shooting, Shane Halligan, 16, didn’t bring the AK-47 to school to shoot up classmates. It was a public display of his pain – he brought the gun to school to kill himself and himself alone. No one else was injured.
The shooting has more to do with Halligan’s inner pain than probably classmates who might have taunted him – if there was any case of that. Halligan’s school shooting was not a Columbine repeat or similar to the Lancaster shooting in the quiet Amish community. Halligan had one goal: to kill himself.
My questions go beyond the school shooting. How could people have known Halligan was suicidal? What was Halligan’s family life like? He seemed to have been a quiet boy with a smile on his face. What could have driven a well-liked high school student to the point of suicide? Even more importantly, how did he gain access to an AK-47?
After doing some further research, I’ve learned that Halligan had the trouble that some teens typically face: low grades on a report card, some teasing from peers. His parents, obviously, did what any other parent would do to a teen with low grades: punished him. They told him he had to cut back on volunteer firefighting and wouldn’t be allowed to go to National Guard boot camp.
Most kids would be disappointed – enraged even – but blow off steam by talking bad about their parents or skulk around in frustration. However, Halligan took the blow quite hard – he sawed off the wooden stock of his father’s AK-47 so that it would be small enough to fit into his duffle bag for school the next day.
It appears that Halligan had no intention of hurting schoolmates. He fired five shots into the ceiling as a warning for other kids to get away. The sixth and final shot, went into his chin and through his head.
Although Halligan was “the nicest, kindest kid” to others, he didn’t seem to think that way of himself.
My sincerest condolances go out to Halligan’s family and those who knew him.
Today’s Mood: 6