Struggling to cope with teens' deaths in Lakeland

Experts said students and teachers at Oak-Land Junior High were doing the right thing in the wake of Tuesday's tragedy: Talking.

On Facebook, in family rooms and in small groups of friends, the memories of Jacob Campbell and Lisa Grijalva confronted confusion over why the teens had taken their lives in a Lakeland park Tuesday night.

"I never thought I'd be having this conversation," said Lisa Hagen of Lake St. Croix Beach, who was preparing to console her daughter, a classmate of the ninth-graders at Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo.

"Ninth grade -- that's [my daughter's] age," Hagen added. "That could be my daughter. You just wonder why, why, why? I've just been shaky. It doesn't make sense."

A walker had found Jacob, 14, and Lisa, 15, in Humphries Park, not far from the St. Croix River, at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, both dead of gunshot wounds.

Authorities continued to investigate the details of the tragedy Wednesday, searching for clues about what might have led to the double suicide and waiting for the Ramsey County medical examiner to determine exactly how the teens died.

Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton said fellow students had reported that Jacob and Lisa had been saying goodbye to friends Tuesday and "there was a lot of texting happening back and forth" before and after the shootings.

"It's obviously a plea," Hutton said of such conversations. "Absolutely that's a flag that something's not right, that they're going to hurt themselves."

For teenagers, problems such as unexpected pregnancy, a romantic breakup or a speeding ticket can seem like the end of the world, said Daniel Reidenberg, the executive director of the Bloomington-based Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, also known as SAVE.

"Everything is larger than life for a teenager," Reidenberg said. "They don't have the same sense of time or reference that we do."

Whatever pressures had confronted Jacob and Lisa, experts said parents like Hagen and students and teachers at Oak-Land were doing the right thing Wednesday: Talking.

Hutton said all parents, right now, should sit down with their teenagers to talk about any problems. And whenever teenagers hear friends talking about harming themselves, they should go to a parent and someone else in authority and seek help, he said.

"In most every walk of life there are approachable people," Hutton said.

Counselors at the school Wednesday cautioned students against glorifying the deaths.

"When someone dies by suicide and there's a great deal of attention paid to it, through memorials or ongoing extensive grieving, other youth start to think they, too, can get the same type of attention by taking their life," Reidenberg said.

An average of 42 teenagers commit suicide a year in Minnesota. Because teenagers spend a great deal of their time at school, teachers, administrators and counselors can play a big role in intervening,

Reidenberg said school officials should respond quickly and give out accurate information and not participate in rumors or the myths that go on about suicides; and students should have time and space to be able to grieve.

Sharing their grief

At Oak-Land on Wednesday, students were encouraged to talk about how the deaths of their friends was affecting them and share memories. Parents said they were grateful for the expert help.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of these students and to the students and staff who knew them," Principal Derek Berg said in a statement.

After school, 100 or so young people gathered at the meadow-like park to celebrate the lives of their two young friends who had died there.

They hugged and wept before heading up the steep path to hold a vigil in the clearing where Jacob and Lisa died.

Friends said Jacob, who lived near the park in Lakeland, was a skateboarder, a Boy Scout, a friendly guy who was "even nice to the seventh-graders." "He was a really nice, friendly kid," said Hunter Howieson, a neighbor of Jacob's who had known him since fourth grade. "He was a huge flirt in school. He was just an awesome kid."

Jacob's death hit Madi McKenzie, 13, with such force that she wrote a four-page letter telling him how she felt. An eighth-grader, she had sometimes met Jacob at the park to work on algebra homework at a picnic table.

"He was always there for me," she said. "He was so nice. He always tried to make people feel good."

Lisa, of Oak Park Heights, was described as shy and sweet, but a terror on the track team, where she reveled in leaving opponents in the dust.

"She was super-fast," said Faith Anderson, a member of the team.

A tribute page on Facebook called "R.I.P. Lisa Grijalva & Jacob Campbell" had drawn more than 1,600 people by Wednesday evening. Along with tributes, it includes links related to suicide prevention.

Staff writers Paul Walsh and Daarel Burnette II contributed to this report. kgiles@startribune.com • 651-735-3342 jeanderson@startribune.com 651-735-0999

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