Student Suicide - McAuliffe Middle School - Los Alamitos, CA

Start Date: 2021-08-10

Description: The Orange County Crisis Response Network contacted HOPE AACR following the death of a popular student shortly before school was to begin for the 2021-2022 school year. Details were limited but the principal was concerned about how the 8th graders might respond to this news. August 10 was registration day for the 8th graders, when they would get their class schedules, their lockers, and their P.E. clothes. Although the families had been informed of the student's death, the principal was not sure what fall out there might be. We arrived on campus about 8:30 and met the Crisis Response Network contact as well as 10 or 12 teachers, counselors, and psychologists. The Wellness Room was decorated with plants, posters, comfortable seats, and a long table with chairs. There was also a large blue poster with drawings that a few close friends had created in the student's memory a few days earlier. As the students and parents arrived, we decided to place Sheryl and Maxx in the Wellness Room and LaWana and Robby in the near-by outdoor eating area. Some students and parents stopped by each of the areas but there was more interest shown by the students in connecting with their friends, particularly since they had had limited contact for the past year and a half due to the pandemic. LaWana shared the following observation: Yesterday I was surprised that the majority of the kids coming for registration did not flock to the dogs since we were stationed outside. Some students looked like they wanted to but their parents led them past and kept walking. Some did stop and put the dog but not for that long as they were anxious to get done, go home or to work or whatever they had planned for the day. Some stopped and petted Robby but not for that long as they were anxious to compare their schedules with their friends to see their classes. There was a group of special education students who were on campus with their teacher and they all came over and spent some time with Robby. They seemed happy to get his card. The kids who were most affected by the tragedy did stop by the Wellness Room where Maxx was stationed and spent some time there. Robby had one teacher who seemed quite stressed and Robby took a liking to her and she to him, so they interacted quite a bit. She was very appreciative that the dogs were on campus. Then a couple of the boys I saw and spent time with last Thursday stopped to to see Robby also and they seemed to be better than they were last week; they have had time to digest their loss. My most meaningful encounter was with a young girl who seemed very sad and her mom and she stopped to pet Robby. The girl sat on the blanket with him and because she seemed comfortable there, her mom said she could wait there with Robby while the mom went to the office. As the girl sat petting Robby, I noticed she was very quiet and I proceeded to talk a little bit with her. I noticed that her chest was heaving like she was hyper ventilating or about to have a panic attack so I asked if she were sad that she said yes; then I told her to stay here with Robby and I went to get a counselor to sit with her. I let Bette hold Robby's leash and I went to the Wellness Room and brought back a counselor to sit and talk to her while she petted Robby. It turned out that her sadness and anxiety were for a different reason than the student's death; she realized that her close-knit group of friends would not be there this year as they would be in high school. Sheryl shared this information: We probably interacted with 25-30 people in the Wellness Center. I think that what stood out most was two of the deceased student's best friends came in and sat rather stone still in chairs talking with a mental health counselor. They had very little to say and answered with yes/no only. After about 20 minutes or so, one of the boys slid down onto the floor next to Maxx and just softly started petting him. I could visually see this shoulders relax. Both boys seemed to be in shock and unable to comprehend the loss of their friend.

Agency: Orange County Crisis Response Network
Teams: Sheryl Clark and Maxx; LaWana Heald and Robby