Westerville News & Public Opinion

Schools aim to provide support in wake of tragedy

David Yingling Saunders, 17, was a senior at Westerville South

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

The Westerville City School District was looking to provide support to students and staff after a Westerville South High School student committed suicide last week.

A walker found the body of David Yingling Saunders, 17, at 9:45 a.m. Nov. 20 on the city bike path in the tunnel beneath Sunbury Road at Marlene Drive.

Saunders was a senior at South. According to his obituary, he was a National Merit scholarship semifinalist and a member of the school's Young Conservatives Club.

He spent 2012-13 school year in the Philippines as part of Rotary's Youth Exchange program.

Following Saunders' death, the school district relied on its crisis plan, bringing in grief counselors from Concord Counseling to talk with students and staff in need, said district spokesman Greg Viebranz.

"One of the primary responses is to ensure that we have professionals on site who can speak with and help any person who may need support to process a tragedy like this," Viebranz said. "They are available and accessible at any time to anyone who needs to speak with them and process the events."

Saunders' death, which came within a week of an 8-year-old dying at Nationwide Children's Hospital after hanging herself and a 15-year-old Gahanna student dying after shooting herself in a park, also has brought about more discussion and awareness of teen suicide within the district, Viebranz said.

"The relationships students have not only with each other but with members of the staff are critical. We've worked hard to help students understand that no matter what the issue, if they need to speak with an adult, there are many trusted adults within our school that they can reach out to for support and guidance," Viebranz said. "It's certainly an opportunity to reinforce that message, but it's a message that we work hard to share with students throughout the school year."

The three suicides led Westerville North High School Principal Kurt Yancey to post a blog entry to the school's webpage reminding parents of the warning signs of suicide and providing a list of community resources for anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Some of those warning signs include: changes in eating and sleeping habits; withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities; violent actions, rebellious behavior or running away; drug and alcohol use; unusual neglect of personal appearance; marked changes in personality; persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating or a decline in academic performance; frequent complaints about physical symptoms, such as stomachaches, headaches and fatigue; and not tolerating praise or rewards.

Behaviors parents should watch for, Yancey wrote, include: children complaining of being a bad person or feeling rotten inside; making statements such as "I won't be a problem for you much longer," "nothing matters," "It's no use" and "I won't see you again;" getting affairs in order by giving away favorite possessions, cleaning his or her room and throwing away important belongings; and becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression.

Counselors are available to students at each school.

Help also can be found through Concord Counseling at 614-882-9338, the Safe School Hotline at 800-418-6423, Nationwide Children's Hospital at 614-335-8300 and the Franklin County Hotline for Suicide Prevention at 614-221-5445.

David, known to his friends as "Vid," is survived by his parents, Randall Saunders and Karen Yingling; sisters, Claire and Eleanor of Westerville; grandmother, Darlene Saunders; grandparents, Walter and Helen Yingling; uncles, Rick Saunders of Omaha, Neb. and Jeff Yingling of East Lansing, Mich., and their families.

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