Asking questions about teen suicide


Vincent Giovanazzi, 17, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His body was found about a mile from his home in a canyon north of Glendora on Sept. 12.

TODAY (Saturday) Glendora will bury one of its youth, 17-year-old Vincent Giovanazzi, who after telling his family he was going to the library, walked up the Colby Trail instead and shot himself with a family handgun.

Vincent didn’t want to be found, say police, judging by the remote location where searchers discovered his body last Saturday morning. His body was there two weeks, well beyond the grassy field that supports the town’s famous native plant, the delicate and rare thread-leaved brodiaea, and more near the third closest coupling of oak trees. A place searchers passed by initially.

The oak-studded canyon with its dappled sunlight – a place I’ve hiked numerous times and not once forgot to thank the Creator for its beauty – is in stark relief with the last minutes in the life of a possibly depressed teenager, “hooked on unprescribed medication – Xanax, a drug of choice for teenagers,” said Glendora police lieutenant Tim Staab.

A boy’s suicide occurring off the path of a popular canyon trail. A suicide with no note, in a place where he didn’t want to be found.

It’s almost like the message here is not to talk about this. To keep it hidden, out of view, out of sight, out of mind.

But that’s not what experts say the community should do. In fact, they say talking about it can help settle nerves and even prevent copycats.

“Every family should have a conversation about it. Because unfortunately, it is a reality,” said The Rev. Karen Davis, Glendora’s police chaplain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the eleventh leading cause of death for all ages in 2006. For ages 15-24, it rises to the third leading cause of death, behind unintentional injuries and homicides. For ages 25-34 it is the second leading cause of death.

Nothing I write or what anyone says is intended to blame Vincent’s family. They have enough grief to sort through without adding guilt. No, instead, the time should be spent making sure young people don’t see suicide as an option. Put another way, that whatever stress they are experiencing – and there is a lot of weight on adolescents’ shoulders these days – they must know there is a way out.

“For a kid who feels overwhelmed by life, encourage them to find someone to talk to – to keep communication lines open,” Davis told me.

Then, if someone is feeling low and hints about killing himself, that kind of talk must be confronted, she said. “Usually, people try not to talk about this. But what mental health officials say is do talk about it and be very blunt. Say `Are you thinking about committing suicide?”‘

Already, the high school has broached the topic. Ironically, the week before Vincent’s body was found was “Suicide Prevention Week.” All this week, counselors were available to talk to students who asked for help.

As for drugs, it is a topic that also must be addressed. Staab said text messages and correspondence on social networking sites by Vincent and his friends indicated he was using the prescription drug to get high. To what extent the drug use led to suicide is not known. Was the loss of his father who died suddenly six years ago a factor? Again, Staab could not speculate.

But he was concerned about prescription drugs – in this case one commonly prescribed by doctors as an anti-anxiety medication – being sold on the street and being abused by local teenagers.

These are very tough topics but ones that need a careful airing. But not all questions can be answered.

“There will be many emotions (at today’s funeral),” Davis said. “They will feel guilt. Anger. And that inevitable question of `why’ will be asked. And there is no perfect answer to that question.”

Is Schwarzenegger a hypocrite?

Reaction to the story on our web site today:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited developmentally disabled residents facing eviction at an apartment complex this morning and assured them they will be able to stay in their homes.
Twenty developmentally disabled residents at the Regency Court Apartments in the 900 block of West Olive Avenue were told last month that they would be evicted from their homes to comply with housing laws. Residents and their attorney had struggled to get an explanation from the property management company about why they were being forced out.

Some are saying that Schwarzenegger shouldn’t take credit for helping people with disability, when his budget cuts earlier this year did damage to the agencies that care for disabled residents, and in turn, limited services for their clients.

One caller, who worked for Lincoln Training Center, which got funding from the Department of Rehabilitation, said Schwarzenegger is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He cut funding in the budget for the disabled, yet he grandstanded at Monrovia’s Regency Court on Friday.

“It is just PR,” said one caller. “If you are going to help, reach as far as you can go.”

Lions, tigers and bears … oh my!

If you’ve ever been to the Wildlife Waystation in Little Tijuanga, you know what a Herculean task it will be trying to move 400 lions, tigers, bears, ostrich and other exotic animals.

Here’s what the Associated Press reported: “The Waystation holds about 400 animals, including lions, tiger, leopards, mountain lions, wolves, bears and even more exotic animals such as ostriches. Workers began evacuating the animals Sunday and up to 275 were being evacuated on Monday ….” Waystation founder Martine Collette said on KPCC today said they were moving more exotic animals.

One stumbling block: She needed more large trucks to transport them. Another news agency said someone showed up with a large Budweiser truck.

I would hate to be on the 134 or 101 freeways behind that truck. Let’s hope they all make it safely to the LA Zoo and Pierce College.

During a visit there 12 years ago, I took my sons who were 6 and 8 years old. People can get so close to the lions and tigers it was frightening. There was a grizzly bear who thought my youngest was lunch. He growled as my son walked gingerly by.

The place is so crowded with wild and dangerous animals it is a miracle that is even exists. Now Collette is asking for another miracle — a modern Noah’s Ark — to get these animals to a second waystation until the Station Fire blows over.

My prayers are with her.