Andover's second suicide of 2007 was confirmed on Dec. 13 by the state's Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. The incident occurred on a soccer field outside Sanborn Elementary School the morning of Nov. 29.

The body of a 26-year-old lifelong male resident was discovered by a man walking his dog that morning. The cause and manner of the man's death, suicide by hanging, was confirmed by Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Communications Director Terrel Harris.

No other details related to the incident were available, Harris said.

The man's family has declined comment.

According to police records, there have been eight attempted suicides in Andover in 2007, up from five in 2006. There were two suicides in Andover in 2006.

In the days after the incident, police did not offer details of the death and would confirm only that no foul play was suspected.

Andover police Lt. James Hashem and police Chief Brian Pattullo would not disclose either the cause or manner of the man's death before receiving official word from the state.

Superintendent Claudia Bach also declined comment in the days after the suicide. Sanborn Elementary School Principal Patricia Barrett, contacted the day of the incident, had referred all press inquiries to Bach. Barrett did send an e-mail to parents that afternoon, writing that faculty members were advised before the school day began not to share information about the incident with their students.

Some members of the community believe people should acknowledge and talk about suicide to properly deal with its causes.

"I think you have to somehow, when the time is right, talk about it as people who work and live in a community," said Andover Youth Services Director Bill Fahey. "I think we owe it to him and to his family to understand the complex issues.

"We owe it to the family to give them every piece of support that we can," Fahey said. "On a larger scale is the question of, 'Why would this happen in a young person's life?' Even if we struggle with it, we have to address it."



Where to find help

In the days after the Nov. 29 suicide, Deb Helms, a member of the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley, said she spoke to Pattullo and e-mailed Andover's superintendent.

The Samaritans of Merrimack Valley runs a 24-hour crisis help line for people considering suicide and a support group for people affected by suicide.

"We do have services that we can help if that's what they'd like us to do," said Helms. "Suicide is a very taboo subject for a lot of people."

Helms was also a member of Andover CARES, a local group of volunteers, educators, professionals and parents, which was formed after teen suicides in town during the 1990s.

Andover Youth Services was also formed in response to the deaths.

"I was hired because of three tragedies that happened in Andover in '93. I feel extremely sensitive to those issues. We can never do enough," said Fahey. "Are we doing everything we can to reach out to one another? I think we have to keep that at the forefront of our minds."

Fahey said he was disturbed by the number of post-high school suicides that have occurred locally in the last decade.

"I think as an organization and as a town we can do more," Fahey said. "On any given week, there are young people in this town who are under certain pressures and who think of suicide as a way out. I think as an organization we have dealt with that significantly."

According to Helms, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24.



This time of year can be difficult

With the holidays, first-term grades and cuts from sports teams all occurring late in the year, Selectman Mary Lyman said that November and December can be a tough time for young people to deal with everyday pressures.

Dave Nichols, the director of health for Andover's public schools, agreed, but said there is a network of health teachers and counselors who are there to help troubled students.

Curriculum related to depression and suicide is taught every year in high school health classes, Nichols said. Additionally, there is a high participation rate on sports teams and clubs, with at least one noncut sport made available each season to student athletes, according to Nichols.

"We really believe that's important, that everyone has a place. A place to belong is crucial in the school and important to kids' lives," said Nichols. "Not all towns do that. We also have a lot of clubs that we try to get the kids involved in."



Effect on others

Ruth Clark, a member of the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley advisory board, said that when suicide happens, families and friends are forced to deal with confusion, pain, longing, guilt and "mind-boggling attempts to reconstruct what happened and what you could do differently."

"It's just a horrendous lifetime burden for everyone left behind," Clark said. "The loss of a child is horrific enough, even when you're prepared for it. It's very confusing to the people who survive."

Ways to cope include getting back to a daily routine, reaching out to friends and family, and finding constructive outlets that preserve the memory of a suicide victim, Clark said.

"It's a heavy and painful burden to keep inside," Clark said. "It's so much more common than people want to believe."

Responding to the scene at Sanborn Elementary along with Andover police was a volunteer with the Trauma Intervention Program of Merrimack Valley. TIP is the only agency authorized to provide 24-hour on-scene support after traumatic events in the area, according to program cofounder and executive director, Jayan M. Landry. Formed in the 1990s, TIP volunteers work with local law enforcement organizations and hospitals.

Landry said TIP volunteers, who have 60 hours of training and screening, give initial support to survivors after a tragedy occurs and act as liaison for the friends and family members of the victim.

"Really, just being their safety net in those first few hours. Just someone who's got a clear head, who can come in and take over from there," said Landry. "Every case is very different. Grief is unique, everyone acts differently."





Signs to be aware of

How can people identify someone who might be contemplating suicide? The Samaritans of Merrimack Valley say to watch for these signs, which spell the acronym HELPING A FRIEND:

r Hopelessness

r Easy access to means of killing oneself

r Loss of family or a pet

r Previous attempts

r Inability to concentrate

r Notable changes in appetite, sleep or personal appearance

r Giving away possessions

r Anger and anxiety

r Family disruption

r Risk-taking behavior

r Talking about death and suicide

r Erratic mood changes

r No self esteem

r Depression



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