Preventing youth suicide after death of 12-year old

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ANDERSON, Ind.—Carson Hankins' family said he had green hair, had a way with animals, helped others when they were down, had a big heart and a lot to look forward to in life.

“He was the sweetest child,” his mother, Whitney Knight, said.

But last month, Carson’s family said he died by suicide at just 12 years old in Madison County.

“They stayed up late playing video games and doing things they would when they get a day off school. and last time we saw him was probably about midnight, 1 o'clock and we were making a cake a German chocolate cake,” Knight said.

She said they didn’t see warning signs and believes bullying played a role.

"He himself kept saying you know, oh no mom it's better,” Knight said.

When asked about a student’s death, Anderson Community Schools said in a statement “In the situation we are dealing with currently, there was no reported history of anything out of the ordinary with the student or the family. The child was a typical student, in good academic standing and no altercations or reports of bullying from staff, counselors or administration.”

Wednesday, the district is having a community meeting at 6 p.m. in the Anderson High School auditorium.

“We had had some conversation about doing something like this when this tragedy occurred, it definitely ramped up the timetable of doing it yes,” Superintendent Tim Smith said.

Smith said they’ll be discussing bullying and suicide prevention.

In a statement the district said there are reporting options available to students, including a Quick Tip phone hotline, a link on its website for families to report bullying, a “bullying box” available at all grade levels and counselors and social workers in place to support and investigate allegations.

"We are there for them, we are not going to tolerate any bullying in our schools. We are going to be a support system for our school community and our families to ensure that our kids are safe,” Smith said.

The community isn’t alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017 in the U.S. there were 131 deaths from suicide for those aged 10-12 years old, a rate of 1.05 per 100,000.

The Indiana Youth Institute says Hoosier youth are more likely to consider suicide and engage in suicidal behavior than their peers nationally. According to its 2019 Kids Count Data Book, suicide is the 4th leading cause of death for youth ages 5 to 14 years old.

The Madison County Health Department said it did not have any suicides younger than 18 years old in 2017 or 2018.

“We can train ourselves to be more alert and sensitive to what the signs and symptoms are. A lot of times and it's difficult particularly in teenagers because of the changes that they're going through,” Michael Dunn said.

He supervises the Crisis and Suicide Intervention Line at Families First, where he said they take kids’ calls.

Dunn said some signs include isolating themselves from people and activities, changes in sleeping patterns and appetites and trouble making decisions.

"We listen a lot. We ask them what keeps them going, who have they spoken with about this, how are they feeling about themselves. And if they don't feel like they can talk to their parents about it, which many children don't, then we encourage them to talk to a trusted adult at school. Whether that's a lunch lady or the bus driver, whomever they feel comfortable speaking with, we want them to talk to somebody that can help them,” Dunn said.

According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, other warning signs of someone at risk for suicide includes talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves, looking for a way to kill themselves, talking about feeling hopeless, trapped, in unbearable pain or being a burden to others, increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, acting anxious or agitated, extreme mood swings and showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the Crisis & Suicide Intervention Service at 317-251-7575 and text CSIS to 839863.

While Carson’s family remembers him, they’re focused on saving others too.

"I want children to know that they need to tell their parents everything,” Richard Sterling, Carson’s stepfather, said.

"For the parents to talk to their kids,” his father, Jason Hankins, said.

"If you see someone else being hurt even if it's not you, just stand up,” Knight said. "I just hope I can save somebody else's kid at this point."

More information on suicide prevention and resources available can be found through the state’s website, at Families First Indiana and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

More of ACS’ statement is included below:

I will start by saying that ACS takes any and all accusations of bullying very seriously. When notified through any of our support systems, the staff and administration investigate immediately and provide solutions to the circumstances provided to them.

A few of the options our students have available to them would be our Quick Tip phone hotline, we have a link on our website for our families to report any kind of bullying they believe is occurring, we have a "bullying box" available at all grade levels and we also have counselors and social workers in place to support and investigate all allegations of bullying. 

Along with these reporting options, we also have computer software capabilities that will flag certain words and phrases that could be deemed unacceptable or related to a student harming themselves in some manor. When there is any indication of suicidal thoughts or concerns, the school corporation involves the parents/guardians, counselors and DCS depending severity of the case. 

In the situation we are dealing with currently, there was no reported history of anything out of the ordinary with the student or the family. The child was a typical student, in good academic standing and no altercations or reports of bullying from staff, counselors or administration. 

Upon hearing about this tragic situation, we immediately implemented our protocol for emergencies of this nature and afforded our middle school students counseling and grief support for the first few days after the event. 

We are planning to host a night for our community to come and hear about the avenues we have for students who may have issues or concerns about their own health or mental health. 

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