Stu­dent kills him­self af­ter giv­ing warn­ing on so­cial me­dia

Shoot­ing hap­pened dur­ing fire drill at Lake Min­neola

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Ja­son Ruiter and Krista Tor­ralva Staff Writ­ers

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.

PHO­TOS BY STEPHEN M. DOW­ELL/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

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.

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