Katie Stack had just joined a marathon running club, following in the footsteps of her older sister. She loved gymnastics and was forever practicing her splits in her Newton backyard. She was a natural at math, had a soft spot for children, and dreamed of one day becoming a pediatric oncologist.
“Katie was a very, very sweet and kind and sensitive soul, to the core,” her mother, Tiffany Stack, recalled Friday. “She saw all the good in everyone and didn’t mind the bad in them. She was just really special in that way.”
But Stack, 15, also struggled with depression, her mother said, and was in treatment. The Newton South High School sophomore took her own life Wednesday. Stack’s death came less than two weeks after Newton North High School student Karen Douglas, 18, also took her own life.
News of the two deaths so close together has rocked the Newton school communities in recent days. Both high schools have had counselors on hand in the last two weeks, and after Stack’s death, counselors were also available at the middle school her brother attended.
“This is a really, really sad time in our district and our city,” said School Superintendent David Fleishman. “We lost two terrific kids in a very short time period, and people are really struggling with it. It’s clearly a very upsetting and unsettling time.”
A community meeting is planned for Monday at 7 p.m. in the Newton South High School auditorium, where counselors from Riverside Trauma Center will discuss how to process the two tragedies and how parents can talk to their children.
Spokesmen from the Newton Police Department and the Middlesex district attorney’s office declined to comment on details of either case. The girls did not know each other, their mothers said.
Tiffany Stack has started an online fund to raise money for Katie’s funeral expenses, as well as to support her other son and daughter. Katie’s father lives in Europe, she said.
“Adolescence is the hardest time of your life; any pediatrician will tell you that,” said Stack. “Katie’s struggle was more than just adolescence. She was battling the demon of depression that a lot of us can’t always understand.”
The mother of Karen Douglas said her daughter had suffered from bulimia.
“She’s just beautiful in so many ways, and yet she had this pain,” Lila McCain said of her daughter in a telephone interview Friday. “I think she was just trying to hide out in the end, and it was just too much for her to deal with. My hope is that kids can feel free to let it out and seek the help they need.”
McCain said she, her husband, and Karen’s father were planning to attend the Monday night meeting in Newton. Stack said she was not yet sure if she would attend.
Katie Stack was close with her 17-year-old sister, Sally, and her 13-year-old brother, Sean, said their mother, and the three shared a group of friends.
The family had just moved into a new home in Oak Hill Park on Oct. 1, said Tiffany Stack, and on Monday got a new puppy, a Jack Russell terrier that Katie named Lucy.
On Tuesday, she said, Katie, Sean and one of Sean’s friends played a rousing game of paintball in the backyard — a game, she said with a laugh, that she would never have allowed if she had known about it — and wound up in a pig pile on the grass: Katie on the bottom, Lucy on top.
“They were just having good kid fun the day before,” said Stack.
The community, said Stack, has rallied around her family. Already, she said, her neighbors have devised a plan to deliver dinners to her and her children for the next year, and they are getting the puppy spayed, raking leaves, trimming hedges, and repairing leaky faucets.
Stack said it was important to her that people know her daughter would not want anyone to hurt themselves.
Katie “had an illness that led her to make that decision,” said Stack.
“She was a strong person. I wish she wouldn’t have made that decision, but she’s happy now.”
Friday evening, Newton South High School principal Joel Stembridge sent an e-mail to parents listing mental health services in the area, including the Riverside Crisis Center (800-529-5077), the Samariteens Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-252-8336), and Bridge Over Troubled Waters (617-423-9575).
The memorial fund for Katie Stack’s family reached nearly $15,000 by Friday. Donations to the Katie Stack Memorial Fund can be made at www.gofundme.com/4uezas.