Isabelle Sarkinen (left) and Anna Ishikawa
BATTLE GROUND, Wash. - What role did the Internet play in pushing two young girls past the emotional tipping point and into taking their own lives?
KATU On Your Side Investigator Anna Canzano has learned that disturbing messages and online postings on two popular websites - Facebook and Instagram - preceded the deaths of Anna Ishikawa on January 12th and Isabelle Sarkinen on December 5th.
Both of the girls were 8th graders in the Battle Ground School District. Their deaths are not directly related, but the circumstances are similar.
Students who knew the two girls, along with school officials, have told KATU that online name-calling and other antagonistic or emotionally dark activity involving Anna and Isabelle had escalated in the weeks before their deaths.
That material, obtained during the course of our investigation, includes images directly related to suicide.
The Battle Ground community is still reeling from the deaths of five students who took their own lives between February 2011 and July of last year. In 2011 at least five teens from across the Vancouver area committed suicide. Following the deaths of Anna and Isabelle, district officials have singled out the Internet as contributing to the tragedy.
The letter they sent home to parents about cyberbullying is a warning to all families; the text in its entirety is printed below. KATU is also providing web resources for parents and teens, aimed at suicide prevention.
We want to be clear that this story is not an effort to point fingers or assign blame for the deaths of these girls, but rather to share lessons that could help save young lives. The families of both girls are aware of our report and our intent in sharing it.
KATU On Your Side Investigator Anna Canzano has been looking into the circumstances of Anna and Isabelle's deaths and how online bullying can torment young people. You can watch her full report tonight on KATU News at 6.
- Mind Your Mind: A non-profit dedicated to providing reliable information for youth dealing with depression, anxiety, and suicide. The site contains youth-specific resources, tips for coping with mental illness issues, and the personal stories of youth who have experienced and overcome these issues.
- Reach Out: A website for youth, by youth, with information on how to help yourself or a friend who is thinking about suicide. Allows youth to share their stories about overcoming depression and suicide in an online, supportive environment.
- We Can Help Us: A collection of videos made by real teens who have gone through a variety of different challenges and overcome them. Also allows other youth to share their own stories in a supportive environment.
- The Trevor Project: A website dedicated to helping LGBTQ youth dealing with depression, anxiety, and suicide. Also operates a 24-hour crisis hotline, 1-866-4-U-TREVOR.
- The Jed Foundation: A resource for college students containing information about depression and anxiety among college students, and information about how to get help at school.
- Metanoia.org: An online resource that offers information about how to find and contact a therapist, and how to make sure your therapist is right for you. Also offers resources for connecting to a therapist online for 'e-therapy'.
- Teen forum on suicide being held in Battle Ground
Resources for parents:
- Association for Behavioral Cognitive Therapies: Offers information for parents about childhood mental health issues and advice on finding the best treatment for you and your family.
- Lok-It-Up: A campaign to promote the safe storage of firearms. Offers advice on how to safely store firearms and prevent teen firearm suicide.
- ASK Campaign: A website dedicated to gun safety. Information about firearm deaths and tips for preventing your children from gun violence.
Resources for Educators:
- Evergreen Education Association: The Evergreen Education Association is holding a "Diversity and Social Justice Conference" in February with a session that will focus on suicide prevention.
Dear Parents of Chief Students,
As you know the past week has been difficult at Chief. Our students have been dealing with some very heavy issues. Emotions have been high and many students have had to confront themselves and how they deal with others students. For many, relationships have been "on again, off again." A new word has even been coined: frenemy. This refers to a person who is your friend today, your enemy tomorrow, your friend the next day, and so on.
And here's what makes it worse: Facebook. Now I don't have a Facebook account, and I don't want to speak out of place. I'm sure some aspects of social networking have merit. But I also know what I observe each day in working with our children. For most, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages. Kids engage in petty disagreements and small problems become large; they lose a sense of what it means to be confidential; they spend far too much time doing something that adds almost nothing to their skills and abilities in becoming productive adults. And worst of all: they tend to be meaner when they type than when they talk face to face. In most cases, in my opinion, our kids when Facebooking, are developing poor habits that diminish their ability to form and maintain positive relationships.
As you might suspect, this has great impact on our school. Nearly all Facebooking by students is done outside school walls and outside school time. Yet it comes to us each day. Before we even begin our day, some students are upset with each other because of comments made late in the evening before - often in a "conversation" that didn't even involve them at the start. Sad.
So ... I want to challenge you. For the good of all our children, please monitor closely your kids' Facebook accounts. Limit their time; read their comments. For some, I'd even suggest closing their accounts altogether and going without. This would actually be my first choice. Hopefully the word frenemy will be short lived. May our kids learn to develop relationships where a friend today is a friend tomorrow. True, we face many challenges in helping our kids learn - not all our bad habits can be attributed to Facebook. But the challenge of controlling Facebook is immediate, and, if we succeed, the impact will be positive and great. Please, let's accept this challenge now.