August 5, 2008

Tragedy Prompts Discussion at Wilson ; Prevention is Focus After Murder-Suicide

By Paul Westmoore

In light of the murder-suicide of two Wilson High School graduates, school district officials presented about 30 residents a road map on how to tell if teenagers are having serious emotional or relationship problems or suicidal tendencies -- and how to get help.

The session was held in the high school auditorium after the shocking events of July 26, when Shawn Wolf, 19, used a shotgun to kill Kari Gorman, 18, and then another to kill himself. The incident occurred after the two had relationship problems following eight months of dating.

Carolyn J. Mollasky, a district health teacher of 30 years, gave parents telltale signs that would indicate if a teenager is disturbed and needs help. JoAnn DeSantis-Carpenter, a school counselor, told parents where teens can go to get professional help and possibly prevent something like the Wolf-Gorman tragedy.

In addition, Lorie Ann Hildreth, director of outreach services for Niagara Hospice, met in a separate room with various people so they could discuss their private concerns or problems and obtain advice. People were still meeting with Hildreth after the school's 35-minute presentation.

Mollasky said that it is important for parents to question their teenagers and keep up with what might be bothering them because young people need to know they have someone with whom to discuss their problems so they don't feel isolated. She said the ability to trust someone enough to talk with them can not only help students resolve the problems and possible depression, but even prevent suicide.

A person can detect whether a teenager is "worrying all the time and it's affecting their sleep and eating habits and their relationships. If they are using alcohol or other drugs, if they engage in stressful behavior, if they become increasingly aggressive, if they suffer from prolonged sadness for no specific reasons and exhibit social withdrawal," then that child needs help, Mollasky said.

As for troubled romantic relationships, she said she has read that "about half of teenage dating relationships are abusive," which is often the result of jealousy and possessiveness on the part of one of them.

She said an unhealthy relationship can be detected if one of the teenagers uses intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, physical abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse and threats to control the other.

"I knew a girl whose boyfriend used to tell her what to wear to school, and if she didn't do what she was told, he'd abuse her," Mollasky said.

She said a healthy relationship is where two people trust each other, let each other be themselves and have their own opinions and interests, and are supportive of each other.

To deal with problems, Carpenter said, the district has six counselors and several other professionals they can call if they have a child or a young couple exhibiting problems.

In addition to direct advice, she said, "if you contact our counselors, we have a list of referrals we can give you as far as therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists are concerned."

For families who don't have good medical insurance, she said, "we have agencies like Family and Children's Services and Niagara Hospice that you can go to for counseling. There's a number of agencies around, and we have all that information. Please use us.

"We are not here just for academics. We are here to help your child not only academically and socially, but emotionally, too."

School Superintendent Michael S. Wendt and High School Principal Daniel Johnson said they want the parents of Wilson students to call if their children have problems and need advice or counseling from the school's professional staff.

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Originally published by NEWS NIAGARA BUREAU.

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