Massillon in the Stark County of Ohio is currently in the midst of an epidemic that it has never seen before: the most recent suicide of 15-year-old Hayden Porter on January 11 has meant that the district in question has now seen six suicides in the past six months, with three of them taking place after New Year's day.
Furthermore, all the victims have been students aged between 14 and 18, raising concerns amongst authorities and mental health professionals that they are dealing with a 'suicide contagion.' A suicide contagion is a phenomenon where members of a community emulate suicides after they have been exposed to such behavior, either through local knowledge or due to accounts or depictions of the original suicide on television and other media.
The news of Hayden's suicide came to light just three days after it emerged that 18-year-old Lexi Tomcavage, the daughter of former Big Brother contestant Amber Siyavus, has also killed herself. A week prior to that, on New Year's Day, 14-year-old eighth grader Brody McNutt had succumbed to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Amongst the six who have taken their lives since August 2017 are one middle schooler, four high school students, and one graduate.
Authorities in the district are baffled and say that that none of the suicides are connected to one another. They also claim that there is no evidence that bullying played a role in these deaths, though Hayden's parents' statements seem to refute these allegations.
Hayden's mother told Fox 8 that her son had to be picked up from school by a relative because he was afraid of four of his classmates. Yet, when his father had a talk with him about his well-being, he was reassured that he had been doing fine.
She said: "There have been some horrific, horrific things said on Snapchat that I truly believe that they were doing something. And I know there was an incident. I had to have my brother pick him up from school because he was scared that these four boys, he didn't say names, were going to hurt him."
Furthermore, Hayden's friend Korbin Merrick claimed that the 15-year-old had been struggling with depression and that he and others even contacted the school about it. But despite doing so, he says that the school neither contacted nor notified the parents about the difficulties their son was facing.
While the school is shuffling and dragging its feet and proving to be indecisive, Merrick also said he and some other students are planning to launch a peer support group to help students who may be facing similar issues and do not feel comfortable talking to adults about them.
This GoFundMe page has been set up in his name to help raise the money to pay for his funeral expenses and has managed to raise $2,760 at the time of writing. A description read: "We recently experienced the loss of our best friend. We feel the best way we can help is to try and bring everyone together and donate. This is a very unexpected tragic event and we want to try and help with the cost."
The string of suicides can be traced back to August when 14-year-old Raistlin Brown killed himself. He was set to begin his sophomore year at the Perry High School but took his own life, with his mother saying that her son had constantly been bullied, both at school and online.
A month later, 16-year-old Nick Borck took his own life at the start of his junior year at Perry High School. An athlete, he had been having issues with the school football team, causing him to call it quits. In the days leading up to his death, he was also kicked off the baseball team, giving rise to suspicions that those events may have had something to do with the drastic step he took.
On Halloween, 16-year-old Kyleigh Crawford committed suicide. She was a junior at the Perry High School and a close friend of Lexi, who was one of the more recent victims. In fact, just a day before her death, Lexi posted an ominous-sounding message on Twitter where she confessed to missing her friend, tweeting: "I miss you," and 'never been like this before.'
Those deaths were followed by that of Brody McNutt on January 1 and Lexi Tomcavage on January 8.
District officials have announced measures to curb the recent epidemic and have said there will be additional suicide prevention resources provided for the 1,700 teens enrolled in the Perry High School Hayden had been attending.
In a release, administrators said: "We ask parents, residents, local organizations, and everyone in the community to wrap around these young people to provide support for those who are grieving and support for those that are dealing with difficult situations."
Perry High School's website says the school has put preventive measures and support initiatives including counseling to help students following this epidemic of suicides, and that they 'understand the pain and sorrow' students, families, and community members are facing over the recent deaths.
A statement released after the death of Lexi read: "The Perry Local School District is beyond heartbroken to report that another student has taken their own life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the student’s family during this difficult time."
"Our students and adults in the community are facing many difficult situations, including depression, alcohol/drug use, family and peer relationship issues, financial struggles and many more."
Perry Township Police said investigators are checking phones and computers belonging to Hayden and the five other victims to see if they can identify a specific reason for the suicides. One issue police examined has to do with the disturbing 'Blue Whale Challenge' where the participant carries out a series of tasks, the last of which involves killing themselves.
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