Parents Go On 'Track Watch' After Calif. Teen Suicides Parents and volunteers in Palo Alto, Calif., have begun a nightly watch at a railroad crossing where four teens from the same high school have been victims of suicide in the past six months.
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Parents Go On 'Track Watch' After Calif. Teen Suicides

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Parents Go On 'Track Watch' After Calif. Teen Suicides

Parents Go On 'Track Watch' After Calif. Teen Suicides

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Today in Your Health: preventing teenage suicide. We'll hear about the latest research after this story: how parents are working to keep teens safe in Palo Alto, California. Within the past six months, four teenagers from the same area high school killed themselves. Now volunteers are maintaining a safety watch aimed at preventing another tragedy. Elaine Korry reports.

ELAINE KORRY: Twice each hour, the same routine unfolds. First, the warning bell sounds, as the crossing gates lower to block this busy railroad intersection in a neighborhood of Palo Alto.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

KORRY: Twenty feet away, the parents huddled along a chain-link fence freeze midsentence and look down the tracks toward the approaching headlights. They watch as the massive silver commuter train bears down and then hurtles through the crossing.

(Soundbite of train horn blaring)

KORRY: And then, just like that, it's over. The gates go up, faces relax, and the adults resume their quiet conversations.

Ms. CAROLINE CAMHY: Well, we're out here to show the community and the kids that we care about them and that we want the misuse of the tracks to stop.

KORRY: Caroline Camhy, the mother of two young children, started this Track Watch days after the last suicide occurred here a month ago. As school and city officials agonized and conferred, Camhy says she and other volunteers felt compelled to act.

Ms. CAMHY: We want the deaths to stop, and we want people to know that if they would just open their hearts and look around them, they'll find people who care. We're not the only ones.

Mr. PAUL GREGG: An hour or two of my time every day is a small price to pay to keep anything from happening at this intersection. There's been no incidents since we've been here.

KORRY: Paul Gregg lives a quarter-mile away. He has two children who graduated from Palo Alto schools.

More than 70 volunteers have come to watch these tracks so far. They arrive in down jackets and knit caps, setting up camp chairs, sharing a thermos of coffee. Marie Elena Mendoza said she sleeps better if she stays until 1 a.m.

Ms. MARIE ELENA MENDOZA: This way, I know I'm sure that one o'clock is the last train. I can go home and rest completely, knowing that there will be no more trains.

KORRY: Mendoza has both a sophomore and a senior at the local high school. Two of the teens who died here were her son's classmates. He said each time, counselors came to his class and said they had bad news. They never named the students, but everyone could see their empty chairs.

Ms. MENDOZA: It is just not right that it's happening, that our kids are being put through this so much. They're just getting better from one, and boom, again, and boom, again, and they just can't survive like that.

KORRY: There are no shrines erected here, no memorials to the four dead teenagers. No one wants to romanticize what happened. In fact, no one even uses the S word, instead referring to the incidents, or the misuse of the tracks. The volunteers fear saying anything that could encourage another copycat.

As the night wears on, people wave from passing cars or roll down their windows to yell out thanks. A local pizzeria owner drops off a free pie. And sometimes, the Track Watchers have visitors.

Unidentified Man #1: We're the paramedics on duty tonight.

Unidentified Woman #1: Thank you.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah. So�

Unidentified Man #1: We just want to thank you guys for doing this.

Unidentified Man #2: We just figured we'd stop by and say hi (unintelligible).

KORRY: Hugo Godoy and Steve Lindsay are Palo Alto firefighters.

Unidentified Man #1: You need anything? Is there anything we can do for you guys tonight?

KORRY: The city of Palo Alto is providing 100 reflective safety vests for the volunteers to wear. And after months of delay, the police department recently hired security guards to patrol one site along the tracks.

But the Track Watchers want more safety features, especially better lighting along the darkest stretches. In the meantime, they'll continue to guard this area. But for how long?

Unidentified Woman #2: As long as it takes.

Mr. GREGG: As long as I'm asked to come out, I'll come out.

Ms. MENDOZA: Same thing, as long as it takes. We want to make sure that nothing will ever happen here again.

KORRY: Parents say it'll be a long time before the memory of what happened begins to fade. They want troubled teens to know they can find answers, but not out here.

For NPR News, I'm Elaine Korry.

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