Student kills himself after giving warning on social media
Shooting happened during fire drill at Lake Minneola
MINNEOLA — Seth Sutherland, 17, sent private messages on social media Tuesday to his parents and two friends, saying goodbye, and a final Snapchat message: “Rest in peace [expletive] all of you who contributed to this.”
The Lake Minneola High School student — described by a friend as “a really nice kid” — shot and killed himself Tuesday in the school’s bus loop during a scheduled fire drill, Lake County school district and sheriff ’s officials said.
The shooting about 8 a.m. triggered a lockdown and prompted frantic parents to rush to the school of about 1,800 students, worried about their kids’ safety. No one else was injured.
“It’s so close to home, you’re scared,” Zulaika Kahn said as she waited for her son to be released. “I just want to break into that school and get him and bring him back.”
“We have reason to believe this was a planned event and this is really all I can say,” said Lake County Sheriff’s Lt. John Herrell, who also shared the details of the teen’s final messages. Seth was pronounced dead at a hospital from a gunshot wound to the head.
Trevor Schremmer, a 16-year-old junior, said he spoke to Seth the day before in the school’s courtyard.
“He was a really nice kid. He was always nice to everybody. He was friends with everybody,” Trevor said. “He seemed fine. Everybody said he seemed fine. I hope his family is OK. I’m sure they’re going through a lot.”
Senior Drenen Wesolowski, 18, said of Seth, “He was quiet. He had a tight group of friends [but] he
wasn’t a part of any extracurriculars.”
Another classmate, junior Isaiah Vargas, said students who were going downstairs after the fire drill started and looked through a window and saw a “terrible” sight — Seth’s body.
“It really impacts the heart,” said Isaiah, 16. “The teachers and staff were surrounding the body.”
Students were told to return to their classrooms, stay quiet and not post anything on social media, he said. He said school personnel announced on the intercom that it wasn’t an active shooter situation.
The school on North Hancock Road about 25 miles west of downtown Orlando was secured immediately after the shooting and law-enforcement officers collected the gun, Herrell said.
“Your children are safe,” he said before the lockdown was lifted.
Parents were either informed by phone calls from the school district or their own children who called or texted them. Other nearby schools also were placed on lockdown.
A crisis team, including grief counselors, were sent to the school, Lake schools spokeswoman Sherri Owens said.
Parents gathered alongside media members outside the school to wait for word about their children.
Elsa Oacha, 46, of Clermont had tears in her eyes after hearing from her daughter, a senior, that there had been a shooting more than an hour earlier.
“She said that a kid got shot. That it was during a fire drill.”
Caree Jewell, a licensed mental-health counselor and director of the 2-1-1 Crisis Line in Orange County, encouraged parents who suspect that a loved one might be considering suicide to ask directly about the possibility.
“There’s a myth: If you talk about suicide, people will be more likely to commit or attempt it,” Jewell said.
Asking increases the chance the loved one will get help for issues troubling them, she said.
“It’s safe to talk about suicide,” she said. “It’s dangerous not to.”
Suicide rates for teens have been on the rise after declining for nearly two decades, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For example, according to CDC statistics, the suicide rate for males aged 15-19 years rose from 10.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 2007 to 14.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 2015, an increase of 31 percent. Rates for females in the same age group were lower than males but followed a similar pattern.
Recent teen suicides have been blamed on cyberbullying, and social media posts depicting “perfect” lives may be taking a toll on teens' mental health, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.
A parent waiting for her daughter outside the school on Tuesday said some students were already circulating “mean memes” — an image or short video clip often intended to be humorous and spread rapidly by internet users — about Seth.
“I don’t understand how people can be so horrible,” said Shantay Henderson, whose daughter is a sophomore at Lake Minneola.
Lake County School Board member Marc Dodd called the apparent suicide “gut-wrenching.”
“I’m simply heartbroken for the student and for the family,” he said.
The last fatal shooting at a Central Florida school was in 2014, when Lamar Jazz Hawkins III, 14, shot himself in a restroom stall at Greenwood Lakes Middle School in Lake Mary. His family’s lawyer said years of bullying led the boy to take his own life.
In 2006, Chris Penley, a 15-year-old student at Milwee Middle School in Longwood, brandished a pellet gun in class and was fatally shot by a Seminole County deputy sheriff. And in 1995, Tavares Middle School student Joey Summerall, 13, was shot 13 times by a classmate armed with a 9mm handgun after they had exchanged words in school courtyard.
Left, parents at Lake Minneola High pray after a student Seth Sutherland, 17, shot and killed himself on Tuesday. Above, law-enforcement officers investigate the scene.