SPARKS — Monday morning’s news hit many seniors at Reed High School hard. For the fifth time in the past few months, a well-known classmate had died — this time from an apparent overdose, his acquaintances say.
“Monday was the struggle,” said senior Yiajaira Esparza, 18. “Monday was a tough day.”
Students bundled together beneath a darkening sky and chilly winter air Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil to share stories about their lost classmates.
Some wept silently, while others let the tears run down their faces as classmates told about memories of their short time spent with the five young boys and girls whose lives were lost in the past few months.
The candles flickered, burning brightly until the wind snuffed the fire too soon, a reminder that these lives were taken in one way or another much too early for many of the students to understand.
Esparza was one of them.
In her gloves and coat, she stared and listened to speakers as one after another talked about the good times and the memories of the most recent youth, Nick. His friend joked about a fishing trip when Nick, a mischievous senior, dared him to eat a snake. Nick was “one of the crowd,” Esparza said.
“My friend had the biggest crush on him,” she said. “He was a pretty fun person.
“They’re telling stories about him tonight. Trying to smile and laugh,” she said. “But they’re really torn and hurt about what happened Monday. Now, they’re just celebrating that they knew him.
“It’s just tough,” she added.
According to talk around the school, he was at a party over the weekend and was with a few other people when he overdosed, Esparza said. She didn’t want to know the details herself, she said, so she hasn’t asked anyone the specifics.
Nick is the last in a string of tragic deaths that Sparks teens have had to process these past few months. Weeks prior, a prominent senior, Chinette, who would have been valedictorian of the school, lost her battle with leukemia. A month before that, Andrew, 17, died of the same condition. He enjoyed playing football, his memorial read.
And, a few days before losing Chinette, seniors at Sparks and Reed high schools were handed the news of a well-known senior, Jesus, who ended his own life at his home in Reno. Jesus was a friend to many at both schools.
Also, Sara, a recent graduate who was known to many at Reed, died unexpectedly during a surgery.
“Even with Jesus, he went to Sparks, but it was still hard,” Esparza said.
The one other death that hit Esparza the hardest in the past few months was when she found out her friend, Staci, had taken her own life while Esparza was on vacation.
“I knew her, I was friends with her. We sat together,” she said. “It was kind of out of nowhere. I didn’t believe it happened.”
As with most teens, Esparza went online to check out the latest news about her friends. She hadn’t checked her Facebook page for two days. That’s where she found out what had happened, she said.
Washoe County School District administration has kept publicly silent on the matter, refusing to answer any requests for comment from the Daily Sparks Tribune.
District counselor Katherine Loudon, following Jesus’ death on Dec. 6, described the process of how district counselors react when a crisis occurs. She said counselors were at the school immediately following the news of Jesus’ suicide and a team was deployed to talk to the children who were close to him. They were encouraged to talk, write poems, write letters, draw pictures, counsel in small groups and were offered one-on-one counseling.
A large poster was made and many of the students wrote to Jesus during the days that followed. Many teens also held a candlelight vigil on the soccer field the night following the news, according to reports.
Sparks Chief of Schools Police Mike Mieras said Jesus’ death was investigated in conjunction with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department to determine whether the case had anything to do with bullying or cyberbullying.
“A lot of hours went into that to determine … it was not a case of cyberbullying, no bullying at all,” he said. “It’s unfortunate it happened, but from everything we can tell, it had nothing to do with school at all.”
Mieras said after his many years in law enforcement, the death of a child is one of the most difficult issues to understand.
“In all the years in law enforcement, suicides are a very tough thing to deal with. It’s a big question of why,” he said. “The biggest thing is, you don’t want someone to think, ‘Look at all the attention he got.’ That’s the worst thing that can happen.”
The state has many programs for youth to turn to when in crisis, whether they are dealing with self-crisis or hurt over what has happened to a friend.
Janett Massolo, a suicide survivor who works with the Nevada Youth Suicide Prevention Program and Crisis Center, said she hopes the district allows the affected teens to time to talk about their grief.
“Every time I hear about a kid dying, it breaks my heart,” Massolo said.
The national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-TALK, or children can text the word “listen” or “answer” to 839863 and receive a response from a crisis center.
Locally, parents can visit www.solacetree.org and find several avenues of assistance, including ways to join groups to talk about their children’s behavior or their own grief.
Youth have their own website at http://us.reachout.com/wecanhelpus/ where they will find all types of ways to express or read about different issues, including eating disorders, grief during the holidays, getting treatment for medication abuse, youth homelessness. They can also find a blog there, You Tube videos, journaling and assistance on how to deal with grief in general, Massolo said.
“That would be a wonderful website for the kids,” said Misty Allen of Nevada’s Office of Youth Suicide in Carson City. “It talks about getting through hard times of all types.”
Massolo said it might not be the best thing to force children into counseling. Youth normally rely on each other — as seen Wednesday night when Reed High School’s student body president organized the candlelight vigil — to talk about their grief.
“That’s their normal grief work. My hope is that their friends will allow them their time to talk,” Massolo said.
Those who were affected by the recent losses at both schools need someone to talk to, she said, whether it is a friend, teacher, coach, mother, father, uncle or someone he or she trusts.
As the teens huddled together Wednesday night at Reed high school, some parents joined them as they talked about their lost friends. One girl stood up and, through her tears, quoted a Bible passage, saying she hoped people would take comfort in the words as she did.
“I was asking for help to get through all of these hard time and it really helped me,” she said. “Staci … (her suicide) came out of nowhere. I would give anything to have it end better. Enjoy the company you have. Enjoy being alive. Enjoy being with your friends because you just never know.”