Emergency director urging more mental health help for school
BY MONIQUE O. MADAN
MIAMI – After a second Parkland shooting survivor died by suicide in a week’s span, Florida’s emergency chief is calling for the state Legislature to dispatch more mental health resources for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community.
On Saturday night (March 23), a Parkland sophomore took his own life, according to Coral Springs police. A week before, a former student whose best friend died in last year’s massacre took her life.
“Now is the time for the Florida Legislature to help,” said Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s emergency management director and a former state representative from Parkland.
“Mental health is a bipartisan issue,” he posted on Twitter.
Meanwhile, local leaders are taking steps of their own.
On Sunday afternoon, more than 60 school, county, city, child services and law enforcement officials, as well as mental health specialists, teachers and parents, met for an emergency meeting.
Parents who attended the meeting said the Broward County School Superintendent’s Office is working to reach every parent in the district via text, email, social media and robo calls.
“They will be asking parents to take this issue seriously,” said Ryan Petty, father of Alaina Petty, a 14-year-old freshman who was one of 17 people murdered on Feb. 14. 2018. “Parents cannot be afraid to ask their kids the tough questions.”
Petty said the school district will be giving parents the “Columbia Protocol,” a set of six questions to ask their children.
Based on their answers, they will be given several emergency resource options. Several nonprofits are also dispatching therapy groups that will offer free services.
“During the spring break, I encourage you to take time to speak with your children every day. Dinners are a great time for family conversation,” said Superintendent Robert Runcie. “We need to remove the stigma from talking about suicide.”
Helen Aguirre Ferré, the communications director for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press office, said the governor is aware of the reports of suicides and is monitoring the situation.
DeSantis has established relationships with several parents who lost children in the shooting last year, and has had conversations with the families.
“He and the first lady are concerned,” Ferré said.
But the situation is, for now, in the hands of local officials, she said, and there has been no request for the state to intervene.
Before the state activates emergency resources, local leaders would have to agree they need the help.
Last year, after 17 people were murdered in the Feb. 14 shooting on the Stoneman Douglas campus, the state Legislature passed a gun-control and mental-health bill that restricted some sales of guns and accessories, gave the courts the ability to take guns away from people with mental health issues and set aside money to hire and train school faculty.
State Rep. Shevrin Jones, of West Park, said he would “be the first person to co-sponsor something to deal with mental health in our schools and our communities.”
Amid the new Parkland pain, Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the March For Our Lives, a student-led protest of the country’s gun laws that drew hundreds of thousands of people to Washington and to other marches around the world.
The news of the two suicides comes just as students are out of school for spring break, worrying some that students may not get the help they need.
How many more?
Investigators told the Miami Herald that the male student died in “an apparent suicide” on Saturday night. He was in 10th grade and attended Stoneman Douglas last year at the time of the Feb. 14 shooting.
It isn’t known whether his death can be linked to the school shooting, police said. They did not release his name.
The death follows the suicide of a recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate, Sydney Aiello, who took her life after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office said Aiello died from a gunshot wound.
“How many more kids have to be taken from us as a result of suicide for the government / school district to do anything? Rip 17 + 2,” former Stoneman Douglas student and gun-control activist David Hogg said Sunday on Twitter.