A Mid-Michigan community is filled with grief after tragically losing two teens and almost losing another.
In the span of only four days, two Ogemaw Heights High School students lost their lives to suicide. A third tried to do the same.
“You always think it doesn’t happen here. It’s when you hear of it happening other places, but not where it hits so close to home,” said Joann Joy, parent.
Joy’s daughter Ellie Mathis is a former student at the high school.
“I was devastated. I’m scared for my own friends,” Ellie said.
Ellie said she was friends with all three of the teens.
“I don’t want to lose any more of my friends,” she said.
Joy is also devastated. She said it is taking an emotional toll.
“Terrified. I feel terrible for my child, both of my children when they struggle. And I feel awful for all those other parents,” Joy said.
The West Branch-Rose City School District is looking to help students and staff by providing specialists and grief counselors. They released the following statement:
"West Branch-Rose City Area Schools have lost two of our students to suicide and tragedy recently. Both of these losses can be very complex. We are looking for answers just like our community. We are doing everything we can to embrace our students, their families and our community to help them with their grief and the unknown. We have brought in grief counselors and specialists from around the state who are here to help guide us and provide support, not only to our students but also our staff. We will continue to work with our students and community with the healing process as long as necessary. Thank you for your support of our school and students through this very difficult time."
Ellie said what is helping her are her friends posting on social media trying to hold each other up.
“All my friends, they’re spreading love between everybody. They’re asking and telling everybody if they need help to get help,” Ellie said. “It’s what all my friends need. They need people there for them.”
“Nothing is more important than your life,” Joy said.
The suicides are being investigated by the Ogemaw County Sheriff’s Department.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say suicide results in 4,600 lives lost each year among people between the ages of 10 and 24.
There are several signs to watch out for including talking about wanting to die, being an unbearable pain, acting anxious or reckless, and displaying extreme mood swings.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
“It is an epidemic in our schools,” said Tammy Rang, parent.
According to police, both students were teenage boys ages 15 and 14. They also said another student, a teenage girl, attempted earlier this week.
Rang believes an increase in cyberbullying is behind the suicides.
She even pulled her daughter from Ogemaw Heights because of it and said the problem starts when no one speaks up.
“Because when they do tell and the principal does get on the other kids then they retaliate even worse. So it’s not necessarily the school, it’s that these children won’t tell,” Rang said.
TV5 asked Ogemaw County Sheriff Howie Hanft if online bullying could be the cause. He said their investigation has led to one conclusion so far.
“We did a connection with the families involved and the law enforcement with the school and we’ve shown no connection whatsoever to any bullying with these situations that we’re investigating,” Hanft said.
Hanft said they have looked into social media accounts, the students’ phones and computers at the school.
He said there has not been any evidence of bullying. However, he does believe someone has seen or heard something that could help solve this case.
“We definitely need someone to step out and say OK, what was going on? And so if you’re out there and you have any indication of what these kids were doing, talk to us,” Hanft said.
Rang is still unconvinced. She said you can’t rule out other students’ behavior online or in school.
“Honestly, if you don’t live it, if you don’t know the bullying, if you don’t see it, you’re not going to find it,” Rang said.