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Newton parents discuss teen suicide

Newton discusses prevention, response after 2 teens’ deaths

Lila McCain, mother of Karen Douglas, spoke to the Newton school community about her daughter at a forum on suicide. At left, Larry Berkowitz and Joanna Bridger of the Riverside Trauma Center.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe staff

Lila McCain, mother of Karen Douglas, spoke to the Newton school community about her daughter at a forum on suicide. At left, Larry Berkowitz and Joanna Bridger of the Riverside Trauma Center.

NEWTON — If there is one good thing that comes from her daughter’s death, Lila McCain hopes it is that another troubled child finds a way to ask for help.

“I don’t care if I have to quit my job; we’re going to do something,” McCain told parents packing the Newton South High School auditorium at a forum Monday night, her voice steady and her fist clenched. “We need to make the kids feel safe to come forward. We need to destigmatize suicide.”

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McCain’s daughter — Newton North senior Karen Douglas, 18 — was found Oct. 5 in the woods in Natick after taking her own life.

Less than two weeks later, on Oct. 16, Newton South sophomore Katie Stack, 15, also took her life, according to her mother.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Audience members listened while the Newton mayor, superintendent and people from Riverside Trauma Center spoke.

“Our city’s heart aches for the loss of these talented, bright young women,” said Mayor Setti Warren.

“As a city, we have to take on this complex question of what has gone on in the last couple of weeks.”

About 250 parents and others gathered at Newton South to grapple with the question of how to talk to their own children and how the school and the community at large could prevent suicides in the future.

Some parents said they were afraid the school was not talking enough about suicide, while others worried that too much discussion would glamorize it.

Many said their children were hurting.

“My son is a tenth-grader . . . he’s just rageful,” said Jody Steiner, who said her 15-year-old son knew Stack. “It’s coming out sideways. What do you do?

“I just left a stack of dishes out and said, ‘Take these out in the backyard and throw them against the garage door. Go smash flowerpots.’ People are carrying this in their bodies.”

Other parents said their children were afraid they would miss warning signs, that their friends could become victims.

“My daughter . . . was friends with Katie,” said Newton mother Purnima Kambli. “The day that she heard, she came home crying. She said: ‘This is the second incident, and I feel like I do not know my friends anymore. What can I do?’ ”

Douglas’s mother sat in the audience clutching her husband’s hand. Behind her, Douglas’s biological father and older sister sat close.

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Marianna Silva was among the parents who spoke during the meeting Monday at Newton South High School.

Stack’s family did not come to the forum. The two girls did not know each other, according to their mothers, and both had struggled in the past, Douglas with bulimia and Stack with depression.

School Superintendent David Fleishman said he plans to organize a group to discuss whether there is anything else the district can do to address suicide with students, and high school staff will get mental health training this week.

One Newton student said she was frustrated that bullying receives so much attention in schools, but suicide is almost never talked about. Many parents said they were also concerned that the topic was not discussed enough.

One Newton mother said: “My daughter came home last Friday, and said to me, ‘Mom, they are not addressing us. They expect us to go and find the comfort, ask the questions. They’re not coming to the school as a whole and addressing the students about what is going on.’ ”

School officials said that immediately after Douglas’s suicide, they met to identify other students who may be at risk and reached out to them. They did the same thing after Stack’s death.

The forum, McCain said afterward, was a good start to a much longer conversation.

When her daughter died, she said, she could not bring herself to call it suicide, until her older daughter, Sonya Douglas, 20, talked frankly about her sister’s death on social media.

The response, she said, was overwhelming.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com.
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