School reeling after 2 suicides — (St. Petersburg Times)

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St. Petersburg Times

January 11, 1992

Author: MARTY ROSEN

BRUCE VIELMETTI

If ninth-grade boys had resumes, Justin “”J.D.” Daniel and Smith Rice would have compiled some impressive credentials. J.D. was an Eagle Scout who worked with the elderly. Smith, a writer who did a mean imitation of rock star Jim Morrison, was considered brilliant by his classmates.

The boys, both in their 15th year, had some things in common: Both grew up in affluent, educated families. They attended the same private school.

In November, J.D. committed suicide with a gun taken from a family gun cabinet. On Wednesday, so did Smith.

Now the classmates and teachers they left behind must cope with a legacy of hurt, betrayal and fear.

“”The students are quite upset,” said Susanna Grady, headmistress at Tampa Preparatory School, where the boys were among 98 freshmen. “They say after the hurt from the first one, how could anyone think of doing that? Some of the students are angry.”

Psychologists on Friday descended on Tampa Prep, holding intensive counseling sessions with students. Mrs. Grady and her staff stayed late into the night to prepare a mailing to parents, with information about counseling and prevention. At St. Mary’s Episcopal Day School, where Smith was a popular graduate, the chapel was opened Friday night to students who are reeling from his suicide.

Students want to know why it happened.

Parents want to know how to prevent it from happening again.

And everyone, from students to counselors, is walking a tightrope.

“Giving attention to it, both the fact of the suicide and the person, is necessary but also very risky,” said the Rev. Christopher Hannum, a counselor at St. Mary’s. “The first one has lethal force for the next, and the next.”

In fact, experts are divided on the copycat aspect of teen suicide. The impact is stronger when a popular student attempts suicide because it “”kind of gives permission” to another kid who doesn’t have much going for him, said John Cackley, a Pinellas County school psychologist.

The worst influences are media portrayals that romanticize suicide, he said. But students at Tampa Prep find nothing romantic in what J.D. and Smith did.

“There’s no glamor in shooting yourself in the head,” said classmate Natalie Hubbard, 14. She said students crave details about the incidents, the first of which was cloaked in secrecy at the family’s request. “You just want to know the whole truth so you can deal with it.”

Some answers to the deaths are contained in files at the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office.

J.D. Daniel, the son of a Hillsborough Community College professor and a prominent banker, had been under treatment for depression. He took Prozac and other antidepressant drugs and had been in counseling three months before his death, according to records.

On Nov. 14, he called a girlfriend and left the message: “”I love you. I cut my wrist.”

But he hadn’t. Instead, minutes later, J.D. broke into a locked gun cabinet, fired five shots in the air from one gun, then shot himself in the head with a 20-gauge shotgun. He was alone at home at the time with his 6-year-old sister, Alex.

Smith Rice, the son of prominent Tampa businessman G. Robert Blanchard, died Wednesday night behind the wheel of Blanchard’s green 1987 Jaguar. The teen drank some vodka, took a deer rifle and six rounds of ammunition from a gun cabinet and drove off in the high-performance car, according to police reports. As the car careened down Frankland Road, Smith, who was nude, positioned the gun in his lap, pointed the muzzle at his mouth and pulled the trigger. The car crashed in a stranger’s front yard.

“There are problems like this all across our nation,” Mrs. Grady said.

Statistics indicate that teen suicide is on a rapid rise. Studies show that suicide rates among Americans 15 to 19 have quadrupled from 2.7 per 100,000 in 1950 to 11.3 per 100,000 in 1988.

Now suicide is the third leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24. In a federal survey, 10 percent of the teen-age girls and 6 percent of the boys questioned said they had tried to kill themselves. In 1990, according to state statistics, there were 11 teen suicides in the Tampa Bay area and 101 statewide among people under 19. In 1989 there were 95.

Experts agree that the numbers are probably higher, because many types of accidents could be suicides, and families often intervene to have death certificates marked as other than suicide if possible.

Mrs. Grady is urging all parents to ban guns from their homes, even those locked in cabinets. Both boys, she believes, might still be alive if they hadn’t had easy access to guns.

In therapy sessions at Tampa Prep, counselors are telling students that death is permanent. They have shifted the focus of discussion away from the dead students and talked more about the hurt and grief.

“Then kids don’t see it as a big attention-getter,” Mrs. Grady said. “”You need to talk about it. You need to deal with it. But you also need to talk about what’s wrong with it.”

Staff writer Bruce Vielmetti contributed to this report.

Help is available.  The telephone numbers for crisis prevention and suicide hot lines throughout the Tampa Bay area include:

Marion-Citrus Mental Health Inc.  (904) 628-5020   Hernando County Mental Health (904) 796-9496

Hillsborough County Crisis Line (813) 238-8821 or 238-8822 or 238-8823

Pinellas: (813) 791-3131  or Family Resources Help Line (813) 531-4664

Family Resource Help Line in Pasco  New Port Richey (813) 848-5555   Central Pasco (813) 228-8686   Dade City  (904) 567-1111

Record Number:  076