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School community rocked in wake of student suicide

By Nolan DeGarlais, News Editor

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Duane “DJ” Dundas, a freshman at MTHS, passed away on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 21, after an attempted suicide over the previous weekend. Dundas was placed on life support after the attempted suicide and remained on life support until his death. He was 14 years old and had previously attended Brier Terrace Middle School and Mountlake Terrace Elementary School.

Those who knew Dundas, both friends and teachers, described him as incredibly creative and caring. He applied his vast creativity through his interests, which included fields such as photography and photo editing.

Dundas has an older brother, John, who currently attends MTHS. He is also survived by his sister Annalise.

Services were held for Dundas at The Salvation Army Everett Corps on Saturday, Sept. 30.

Students were informed about Dundas’ death and the availability of emotional support in the counseling office during their first period classes on Friday, Sept. 22 by their first period teachers. All teachers were required by the administration to present the information to their first period students.

An email was also sent out to MTHS families on Thursday night. In it, Principal Greg Schellenberg encouraged families to check in with their students and monitor their emotional health.

“We encourage you to simply listen to and talk with your student,” Schellenberg said. “As you know, it is important to reassure your student that you love them and will support them as they come to cope with this information.  Grief is a very individual process and there is no timeline.”

Additional counseling support was offered for students affected by Dundas’ death on Friday. What is normally the Career Center was transformed into an area where students could come in throughout the day and receive emotional support as needed.

Terrace administrators were first made aware about the situation regarding the attempted suicide on Monday, Sept. 18 and an emergency staff meeting was called immediately after school so all staff members could be made aware of the situation.

The goal of the meeting was to equip staff with the necessary information to support students who were affected by Dundas’ hospitalization and refute any rumors that spread regarding the nature of the attempted suicide.

The counseling office began to provide support to students on Monday, Sept. 18 and the number of students needing support increased as the week went on and news spread among the student body about Dundas’ attempted suicide.

Administrators continuously monitored the situation as the week went on and prepared to coordinate additional emotional support as needed. After the family of Dundas confirmed with administrators on Thursday that Dundas had passed away, the Edmonds School District was contacted and additional counseling was set up for the school day on Friday for students emotionally affected by Dundas’ death.

Schellenberg was heavily involved in coordinating this emotional support for students.

“I’ve been at a number of different schools and what I find here [in the Edmonds School District] is that there is comprehensive support for planning such things,” Schellenberg said. “The communications director [for the district] came here [to coordinate the emotional support]. There’s a response team that can travel to different schools to deal with large scale emotional issues, they were on the phone planning with us throughout.”

Schellenberg emphasized the importance of having a safe place for students to go during intense emotional situations such as this and allowing students in those places to talk about their emotions. He pointed out that school work, such as a math quiz, should come second to the emotional health of students during these types of situations.

The emotional support on Friday was not just one-on-one conversations between students and counselors, as students also got to talk with each other and help each other cope with their grief.

“There is a healing aspect of students getting together and just talking. Sharing, remembering, crying, that’s all important,” Schellenberg said.

The full time counselors at MTHS are committed to monitoring the situation and making sure students affected by the death are maintaining their emotional health. If any students still need support, counseling services are always available from the school counselors, even though the district’s designated emotional support team is no longer present.

Staff was briefed on Friday morning during an emergency meeting before school, where they were given a fact sheet so they could accurately present the information about Dundas’ death to their first period classes. It included all of the essential information, including the important details on how students could receive emotional support throughout the day.

Another important part of the emergency staff meeting was making sure all staff members were emotionally stable for the day and checking to see if any of them needed emotional support.

“That was one of the points I needed to talk to the staff about. Take care of yourselves, take of your wingmates that you teach next to and make sure that everyone is getting supported if they need to,” Schellenberg said.

Along with continual counseling support, many options are available outside of school for students to receive emotional support. These include the Care Crisis Hotline, Compass Health and Swedish Hospital Grief Support. Also, if you or anyone you know is at risk of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day. The numbers for these hotlines are listed below.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-8255

Care Crisis Hotline: 800-584-3578

Compass Health: 888-693-7200

Swedish Hospital Grief Support: 425-640-4404

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The student news site of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.
School community rocked in wake of student suicide