Parkland, Fla., Struggles To Respond To Two Recent High School Suicides Two students who attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have taken their own lives in recent days. The school was the site of a 2018 mass shooting that killed 17 students.
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Suicides In Parkland Leave Community In Shock

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Suicides In Parkland Leave Community In Shock

Suicides In Parkland Leave Community In Shock

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The community of Parkland, Fla., is reeling from the news that two young people have died. On Friday, 19-year-old Sydney Aiello was buried five days after she died by suicide. Aiello was a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas last year at the time of the mass shooting. A day later, another student died. The high school sophomore whom authorities haven't identified apparently took his life.

NPR's Greg Allen reports from Parkland.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: People in Parkland call it a close-knit community, one that pulled together after the tragedy. These new deaths are a new trauma to a community that's hurting.

RYAN PETTY: Absolutely, it's heartbreaking.

ALLEN: Ryan Petty is the father of Alaina Petty, a freshman killed in the high school shooting. Following the new deaths, a post to his Twitter account read, 17 plus two with a broken heart.

PETTY: This is something that we recognized was a possibility early on and tried to drive awareness. I'm hoping that, as a community, we now recognize the threat is very real.

ALLEN: It's impossible to say exactly what led these two young people to take their lives. Sydney Aiello was close friends with Meadow Pollack, one of the students killed in the attack. Her parents say she struggled with survivor's guilt. Shortly after her graduation, she shared a post about suicide prevention on her Facebook page with a hashtag - #AskingForHelpIsNotAWeakness.

Les Gordon, a family therapist who counsels students and former students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, says survivor's guilt is a problem for many of his clients.

LES GORDON: They wonder why they're alive and their friend is not, why their family can to continue to grow and live and make a life and why this other family can't. They just feel terrible.

ALLEN: On Sunday, school officials, mental health professionals, parents and others held an emergency meeting on how to respond to the suicides and reach others who may be at risk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All right, thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank you so, so much.

ALLEN: In a shopping center just a mile from the high school, today, volunteers were moving in furniture and supplies for a health and wellness center for the community. It was supposed to open in about a month. Director Sarah Franco says, because of the suicides, it's opening ahead of schedule now with a critical message.

SARAH FRANCO: What we're asking parents to do is, on a daily basis, to sit down with their children who are middle and high school age and ask them if they have any thoughts of dying or any thoughts of suicide and hurting themselves.

ALLEN: The wellness center, dubbed Eagles Haven after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mascot, is being funded by Department of Justice Grant and is modeled after a similar programs started after school shootings in Columbine and Sandy Hook.

Franco says besides being available through the drop-in center, counselors are reaching out to students and others affected by the tragedy to connect them with therapists. Ryan Petty says following the death of his 14-year-old daughter Alaina, he and his family have seen counselors and it's helped.

PETTY: You know, we're not there yet. We have good days, and we have bad days. But I can just tell everyone how important it is to seek help. And for those that we're concerned about, you know, friends, family, neighbors, students, let's help them get the help that they need. That's my message to everyone today.

ALLEN: Therapists say, more than a year after the tragedy, only a fraction of those affected by the shootings have sought counseling. The recent suicides are a reminder, they say, that for many, the trauma is still fresh, and healing requires help. Greg Allen, NPR News, Parkland, Fla.

CORNISH: We want to pause here to note and say that suicide is preventable. If you're in crisis or know someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or text TALK to 741741.

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