Coweta ninth-grader kills himself at school
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
2/05/13 at 7:16 AM
COWETA - A 15-year-old student killed himself Monday morning in a restroom at Coweta Intermediate High School, officials said.
The ninth-grade boy died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound about 8:35 a.m., Superintendent Jeff Holmes confirmed at an afternoon news conference.
The school was placed on immediate lockdown, and police arrived within seconds, he said.
Police Lt. Donnie Krumsiek said the student died of a single gunshot wound just as the first-hour classes had started. Police don't think anyone else was in the restroom at the time.
"Unfortunately, a life was lost, but it could have been a lot worse," Krumsiek said, referring to other school shootings in which multiple people have been killed.
The state Medical Examiner's Office identified the boy as Triston Stephens.
"According to his principal and counselors, he was a very fine young man," Holmes said.
Authorities don't know how the teenager carried the gun into the building or where he kept it, Holmes said. He also said they did not know how or where he obtained the gun.
Krumsiek said the school was not equipped with metal detectors.
Police have not received any information indicating that Stephens had been bullied, and they are continuing to investigate the circumstances of his death, he said.
"We're going to be very in-depth and thorough. We're going to interview everybody that potentially or possibly was involved, and we're going to try to give the family some closure, and that closure will come with the truth," Krumsiek said.
Holmes said Coweta Public Schools has zero tolerance for bullying and that beginning in elementary school students take part in character education programs that address bullying and suicide prevention.
Parents were notified of the situation by an automated phone call, Holmes said.
He said in the message that there had been "a tragic incident" at the school and told parents that ninth-graders were being evacuated to the high school gymnasium, where they would remain until their parents could pick them up or until they could ride school buses home.
Coweta Intermediate High School, at 14699 S. 305th East Ave., is next door to Coweta High School, at 14607 S. 305th East Ave.
All classes are expected to be in session Tuesday with extra counselors at the schools, Holmes said.
"We're just going to be available for one another," Holmes said. "We are a small community. We're going to get through this together."
Holmes said he was not prepared to talk about gun control or metal detectors in schools on Monday.
Andersen Lopez, a senior, said that when the schools were locked down, everyone thought at first that they were doing the periodic "intruder on campus" drill, but then she saw the worried look on the face of her teacher, who said there had been a suicide in the restroom.
Tonya Smith said she received a text message from her daughter, Brittany, a junior, shortly after the school went on lockdown.
"She heard screaming in the halls, which made me nervous," Smith said.
Brittany told her mother that the school was soon flooded with police officers.
"I'm glad she had a phone," Smith said. "I'm real glad she had it."
Rex Shrum, a minister and former Coweta police officer, said he was in the gym to comfort and listen to the students.
"A lot of them are really upset, of course. Some tried to hide it, but some would talk," he said.
Accounts varied on Stephens' demeanor. Some students said he seemed happy, while others said they thought he was sad and troubled, Shrum said.
According to Oklahoma Department of Education records, Coweta Intermediate High School has about 250 ninth-grade students.
At a candlelight vigil Monday night just outside Coweta High School, students, parents and area residents wept openly, still in shock over the tragedy that hit too close to home.
"I'm sad and depressed," said freshman Jeremy Summers, who described Stephens as "a good friend" who participated in activities just as his peers did. "He was a happy guy. Triston would always make people laugh."
Griffin Qualls, a freshman, said Stephens appeared to be well-liked and that no one saw any indication that the boy would take his own life.
Krumsiek said he was surprised but not shocked that the student had a gun on campus.
"We want to think that in society that our kids are safe, and we try everything we can to keep those kids safe, and we will continue to try those efforts," he said. "Anytime something like this happens, you're shocked. It's hard. It's hard.
"Our condolences go to the family, to the friends and to the students that knew this young man."
Governor addresses incident
Gov. Mary Fallin mentioned Monday's shooting in Coweta while addressing mental health services during her State of the State address in Oklahoma City.
"Today, we received some very tragic news of a teenager who killed himself in Coweta at their intermediate high school. I just want to say my prayers and thoughts certainly go out to him and his family and the students and the school, and I hope that you will remember them today.
"New resources will help reduce these tragedies and help those who are suffering from mental health illnesses, whatever their age, and we are going to get them the help they need.
"For the first time ever, I'm proposing in my budget that we allocate new funds for suicide prevention," Fallin said. "Oklahoma has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, and it is especially prevalent among our military veterans."
Fallin has proposed an additional $16 million for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to assist children with emotional disturbances and their families, adding a crisis center for those with immediate psychiatric emergencies, for suicide-prevention programs and to address prescription drug abuse.
Monday's incident is the second time since September that a student has committed suicide at a school in Oklahoma.
Eighth-grader Cade Poulos, 13, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a crowded hallway at Stillwater Junior High School on Sept. 26.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among teens in Oklahoma, where the rate among teens is above the national average, figures show. Oklahoma's youth suicide rate is 9.4 per 100,000 population, compared to the national rate of 7.3.
— BARBARA HOBEROCK AND SUSAN HYLTON, World Staff Writers
World Staff Writers Andrea Eger, Amanda Bland, Kendrick Marshall and Barbara Hoberock contributed to this story.
Original Print Headline: Coweta student kills self at school
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
Parents arrive to pick up students as other students leave the Coweta Intermediate High School campus after a student killed himself at the school Monday morning. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World
Coweta Superintendent Jeff Holmes speaks during a press conference about Monday's suicide by a ninth-grader at school. MICHAEL WYKE / Tulsa World