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Newton mourns 3d teen suicide of school year

NEWTON — A Newton South High School junior who died Thursday took his own life, school officials announced Friday as they mobilized services to help a stunned and mourning city cope with its third teen suicide since October.

The family of Roee Grutman “has shared with us that his death was by suicide,” principal Joel Stembridge told the community in an e-mail. “There were no indications to any of us — or to his family — that Roee was even contemplating suicide. There are no easy answers. It is simply beyond comprehension.”

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Newton police and the Middlesex district attorney’s office would not release details about Grutman’s death. A friend at his home said the family declined to comment.

The loss of a student described as gifted, athletic, and a class leader has left many in the community reeling, especially coming on the heels of the suicides of Newton North senior Karen Douglas and Newton South sophomore Katie Stack, who died within two weeks of each other last fall.

The news was especially devastating to Douglas’s mother, Lila McCain, who has been striving to raise awareness about adolescent depression and mental health issues in the months since her daughter’s death.

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“It just feels like a surreal nightmare that I can’t wake up from,” McCain said in an interview. “I’m still trying to process Karen’s loss, and move forward . . . and now Roee. I’m numb. When they say there are no words, there are no words.”

Across the city, residents expressed dismay. “Every parent feels this in their heart,” Ruth Reibstein, whose two children recently graduated from Newton North, said in an interview in Newton Centre. “We all know people who are suffering, and you can’t take away all the misery and pain. All you can do is reach out and help where you can.”

‘It just feels like a surreal nightmare that I can’t wake up from . . . I’m numb.’

LILA McCAIN, Karen Douglas’s mother 
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“It’s just terrible,” said David Krongel, who graduated from Newton North in 2005 and could not recall anything this tragic happening in the city.

“Unfortunately, even with all the administration does for students, they can’t watch everyone,” Krongel said. “People might try and blame the pressure, but depression is a treatable illness. Unfortunately there’s obviously still a stigma.”

The mood at Newton South High School Friday was described by David Fleishman, superintendent of schools, as “very quiet and somber.”

Fleishman said that once the manner in which Grutman died became official and the family acknowledged it as suicide, he felt it was important to be honest with the students and the community.

“We are working on multiple levels, paying attention to the students, and the adults in the building who have been hit very hard by this, as well,” he said.

Fleishman said the school administration is working with Mayor Setti Warren’s office, the School Department’s mental health staff, and outside specialists on multiple levels to get the best possible support for dealing with what has happened.

“This happened at a particular school, but it is very much something that happened to the whole community,” said Fleishman. “It is an issue that in so many ways is inexplicable.”

Grutman was “personable, engaging, bright, articulate, and compassionate,” said the statement by Stembridge, and he served as an officer for the class of 2015 and was a peer adviser for a freshman homeroom.

“He was very connected to many adults in the building and was not shy about engaging in long conversations.”

Stembridge urged parents to remind children that no matter what they are going through, the adults in their life “can help them through it . . . that we love them and will move heaven and earth to provide the support that they need.”

Larry Berkowitz, director of Riverside Trauma Center, has been in the Newton schools for the past two days working with students and staff.

He said it is not unusual to see more than one suicide take place in a community.

“It is not uncommon that a few seem to come close together,” Berkowitz said. “That’s kind of a scary thing that a lot of people are studying and trying to understand.”

The most important message for teenagers is that help is available, Berkowitz said. “That it what it takes to stop this.

“It’s not talking about the crisis, but talking to kids about how to solve their problems, about the future, and giving them a place to turn where help is available.”

In 2011, the latest year for which records area available, there were 553 suicides in the state, according to figures from the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the group’s figures, with the highest rate among middle-aged men.

Mental health issues, substance abuse, family history, and abuse are some of the warning signs that a person may be at risk for suicide, said Berkowitz, but sometimes there are no warning signs.

“This was not a kid who was withdrawn; he had a lot of close and engaging relationships with a lot of staff,” Fleishman said of Grutman. “It’s very, very difficult. He was not on our radar.”

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.
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