For the third time this year the Platte County School District sent an email about a student’s death.
The latest message came through email on July 6, notifying the community about the death of Caleb Smith, who died July 5.
Smith was going to be a senior this upcoming school year.
The cause of his death wasn’t relayed in the email and attempts to get the information from the Kansas City Police Department before deadline were unsuccessful.
Whatever the reason, it is tragic when news like this comes out.
As a father, my heart aches for the family and I couldn’t imagine what it is like going through something like that. My heart also aches for those classmates and friends who lost someone close to them. It leaves a void that won’t ever go away.
For the school district this is an occurrence that has happened more than they would want.
The first two emails this year were of middle schoolers who died by suicide.
Only a few weeks ago, services were held for Viktoria King, who was 13.
We, or me rather, decided against running anything in the paper. We did post what the school district provided on our Facebook page. We copied it word for word.
The responses were a mixed bag. Most of them were people who felt bad for the family. Some were blaming bullying and others were outraged we would use the word suicide in a post about how someone died.
When I started writing years ago, suicide was a taboo subject. If someone died from whatever means they chose, most generally my editors and bosses at the time never put it in the paper. It can be public knowledge, but the word suicide wasn’t fit for print.
I have held that belief for some time but with the two previous suicides at Platte County, that was the idea I followed. I won’t anymore.
I went to lunch with a few friends I do the Varsity KC podcast with recently and I brought that subject up. One of the guys works for a school district and the other is married to a teacher.
What I learned is that the preference now is to put that message out on how it happened. Awareness needs to be raised. There are so many with mental health issues and so few places for people to get help. It is a fact that is a problem throughout the metro, but it is one in the Northland that is apparent.
Councilman Dan Fowler tried to get mental health addressed in the Northland by attaching it to the airport contract. Each council member fought for something for their own area and Fowler’s mission was to try to get extra help in the county high schools.
Ultimately that community benefit factor for the Northland was killed, but it is still an issue. There are limited places to get help and those who can help seldom have openings or the capacity to handle those that need the help.
I don’t know the cause of the two previous suicides and I’m not sure anyone does. It could’ve been bullying or it could’ve just been feeling inadequate or not belonging.
As much as I hate to see the word suicide in these emails from the school district, it is something that needs to be addressed. People need to realize there are tons of young people hurting and they need an outlet of some sort. Maybe this school district doing it will open some eyes and ears that will keep another one of these emails from happening.
To the best of my knowledge, of the four school districts we cover, Platte County was the only one to have any students die this past school year. To have it happen three times since the calendar changed to 2019 is heartbreaking.
And with two of the three deemed suicides, it is an issue that needs to be looked at not just in Platte City, but throughout the area.
My dad always said suicide was a long-term solution to a short-term problem. We need to make sure every child knows that.