TEEN TO TAKE OWN LIFE

Boston Herald - - NEWS - Rick Sobey is a re­porter for the Low­ell Sun. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @rsobeyLSun.

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.

Her life.

“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.

PHO­TOS BY JU­LIA MALAKIE PHO­TOS / SUN

‘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

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