TEEN TO TAKE OWN LIFE
started turning dark and cynical as school approached, her grandmother says.
“‘People can just be so cruel. There are so many mean people out there,’ ” Anna told her grandmother that summer.
“That wasn’t Anna. That wasn’t her,” her grandmother says.
They would go to the mall together frequently. Anna would sleep over. Dimantopoulos would ask what was wrong.
Anna never answered. Anna stopped playing field hockey early in her sophomore year at Lowell High, a year after loving the sport. She looked so upset on the day she quit, her mother remembers.
Anna no longer wanted to go out or participate in social activities.
“I wish I had opened the dialogue more,” her grandmother says. “I get angry. I should have picked up on more things.” “It’s such a waste,” she later says, once again crying. “I think about the potential. She was just a great kid.”
Anna also wrote about the happy parts of her life: Her three brothers who brightened her day when she wasn’t feeling good about herself; her four close friends who were always there for her, she wrote.
Anna’s death blindsided everyone.
“Unless that thought is put there, unless you see someone in turmoil, unless you are told they’re in agony or you have an idea of the depth of somebody’s pain, you don’t have a reason to think it was anything like that,” Itea says.
“For that to be the only option she saw, it destroys me. It just destroys me,” Itea says, wiping away tears.
From 2014 to 2015 in Massachusetts, youth suicides increased from 69 to 76, according to the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley, and increased to 86 in 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available. The state numbers mirror a national trend.
Family members keep returning to how Anna didn’t feel safe in school, that she felt she couldn’t talk to anyone about it.
She can’t be the only one who feels that way, her grandmother repeats.
Many students think they won’t be accepted if they report bullying or talk to others about their issues, her mother says. However, it’s critical for students to share their feelings and not go it alone, Itea stresses.
“If you’re feeling this awful about yourself, you need to talk about it,” she says. “You need to know you’re not alone, and people want to help you. And to not feel like you’re a burden.”
Schools can go a long way, providing a safe space for students to report their problems, Anna’s mother and grandmother emphasize. The students could vent to a trained professional and be assured the conversation is just between them, the family members say. A professional in certain circumstances would be legally bound to report the issue to authorities.
Anna’s grandmother would like to visit schools in the near future, and create an anti-bullying program. She would tell Anna’s story.
“I just want to stand up in front of these kids and say, ‘What are you doing? You don’t know what that kid’s going through. You should all be in this together. Take care of one another,’ ” her grandmother says.
Everyone needs to pay attention and look around, she says; someone could be in pain right next to you.
Itea Aslanian runs through dozens of scenarios, the what-ifs.
What could she have done differently? Push, she says. Get in Anna’s face. Cross the line.
“That’s the only way you’re going to know,” Itea says. “Be intrusive.”
Time has healed little.
“It never changes the outcome. That’s the most difficult piece,” Itea says. “You’re left with this aftermath of nothingness.”
Anna’s family says they think they know who bullied her.
The ones who told Anna she wasn’t welcome at the lunch table.
The ones who threw her school supplies on the floor.
The ones who called her profane names in front of other students.
The ones who left Anna feeling empty and worthless, her mother says. Broken. Exhausted. Mentally beaten.
The family won’t name those students nor pursue criminal charges or a lawsuit. They don’t want to inflict pain on others.
They want those students to realize all that Anna gave up, her love of animals, her field hockey, her art.
“I’m very angry and upset about that,” Itea says. “I don’t think it’s fair for those people to enjoy things at school, and my daughter has none of that. They took all that away from her.”
Anna wanted the bullies to know, too.
She wrote in her letter: “I know for a fact if they read this, they’d know who they are.”
“People really have no idea what kind of impact they have on your life.”
Anna turned 16 on Oct. 17. The family planned a surprise party for 10 days later.
A few days before the surprise, Anna appeared upset, commenting that nobody had done anything for her birthday.
She opened her home’s door on Oct. 27. About 60 people yelled, “Surprise!”
Anna started crying.
“Mom, you got me. I had no idea,” she said.
“Everybody’s here for you,” her mother responded. “We’re always here for you.”
The Samaritans of Merrimack Valley, a program of Family Services of the Merrimack Valley, has confidential crisis help lines. The phone numbers are 978-327-6607 and 866-9124673. If someone is in imminent risk, they should call 911.
‘PEOPLE CAN JUST BE SO CRUEL’: Anna Aslanian, a 16-year-old Lowell High School student, took her own life after being bullied. This photo was taken at her 16th birthday party, with makeup and supplies that she received as one of her presents. Pictured at far left and right is Lowell High School.
JEANNINE DURKIN, Acting Superintendent, Lowell Public Schools