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Deaths of teens draw New London-Spicer community together in prayer

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

NEW LONDON -- Students and adults in the New London-Spicer community were set to gather outside at 7:30 this morning in front of the NLS high school to pray following the deaths, by apparent suicide, of two teenagers last week.

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Most of the area churches are also opening their doors from 7 to 8:30 p.m. for youth and families, and a 20-member task force is meeting at 8 p.m. to discuss plans for public forums that will be held in the near future.

The outreach from churches and the action of the Community Mental Health Task Force will "help us move forward," NLS Superintendent Paul Carlson said Sunday night.

Last Wednesday NLS students were told by school administrators that a 15-year old girl had taken her own life. On Friday they learned that an 18-year old boy who'd recently graduated from NLS had also died, apparently by suicide.

The two incidents caught the community by surprise and school, community and church leaders have been quick to respond to support students who are grieving for their friends and asking questions about why it happened.

Meanwhile, young students will be going to funerals this week, instead of going to school.

The funeral for Halee Lucas, 15, is being held this afternoon in New London and the funeral for Zachary Jones, 18, is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Willmar.

Students and adults are invited to attend this morning's prayer vigil. Organizers say silent prayer, group prayer, prayer clusters and a prayer walk will be used as a way to support the community, students and faculty.

Youth pastors and other adults will be at churches tonight to serve as a resource. Many churches will be open, starting at 7 p.m. The Hope Youth Center opens at 8 p.m. People are encouraged to contact their congregations to find out when their church will be available.

There will be materials available to help parents talk to their children about mental health and suicide.

Some of the written talking points put together by the task force recommends that people be "supportive of all involved and to avoid blaming a specific event, person or circumstance," and that "suicide is a complex social problem and can only be solved through the work of all parts of our community."

The task force meeting tonight is not open to the public, said Carlson. Instead, the people in the group will spend time discussing the format, time and location for a community forum. One of the messages the task force wants youth to know is that suicide is a "permanent choice in response to a temporary problem, with no 'do over.'"

The task force, led by Dr. Richard Wehseler, is encouraging individuals, families and neighborhoods to identify people in need and find ways to support them.

The group will not just address suicide but all mental health issues in the community, and will look for ways to make positive changes in the mental health of the community.

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