Caltrain addresses teen suicides on tracks

August 24, 2009 6:47:57 PM PDT
For the third time since May a Palo Alto teenager has committed suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming Caltrain. Now, the school is addressing this series of tragedies at the same railroad crossing, involving students from the same school.

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Palo Alto police are now stationed at the Caltrain crossing in Palo Alto where three teenagers in the last four months have killed themselves. The latest tragedy involves a 13-year-old girl leaving many in the community stunned.

"I honestly feel like leaving. I don't want her to even know about this one because it is now in her age group," says parent Suzan Briganti.

The earlier suicides in May and June involved students at Gunn High School and the 13-year-old was about to start school there as a ninth grader.

Gunn High School is working with police and mental health professionals to best address the issue when students return to school on Tuesday.

The school district on Monday didn't want to talk about its specific plans, but a child psychiatrist from Lucille Packard says the approach will be to urge students to get help or offer help to anyone struggling with depression or other crisis.

Students should "tell an adult that they trust, whether it be a parent or whether it be a family friend, or whether it be someone in the school," says Shashank Joshi, M.D., from the Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic.

Caltrain also held a news conference Monday to say it believes the best way to deal with the cluster of suicides is to address mental health issues as a community.

"There are 300 suicides on average per year in our service area and nine of them are on our right of way, the best way to tackle the issue is to tackle the 300 and that number nine is doing to go down," says Mark Simon, a Caltrain spokesperson.

Some advocates however also want Caltrain to consider what more it might be able to do such as sensors or video monitoring.

"We need to focus our minds and our mindset to say 'How we are going to eliminate, reduce the number of deaths on the tracks?'" says Victor Ojakian, a suicide prevention advocate.

As the community vows to work together, one task force is already underway with loving sayings written in chalk on the sidewalk leading to the train tracks.

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