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Two deaths in three days hit NLS community hard

NEW LONDON -- Youth pastors are holding counseling sessions this weekend at New London and Spicer churches, parents are being encouraged to talk -- and listen -- to their children and the local crisis hotline telephone number is being distributed to students following the apparent suicide deaths of two teenagers in three days.

A quickly formed community task force will meet Monday night following the New London-Spicer school board meeting to formulate a community call to action to respond to the tragedies.

"The madness has got to stop," said Paul Carlson, NLS superintendent, on Friday night as news spread of the unexpected death of a 19-year-old recent NLS graduate that afternoon in Spicer.

The news hit hard for the stunned student body and staff, which was still reeling from the suicide of a 15-year-old NLS student on Wednesday.

Carlson's worst fear?

"That it continues. And it can't," he said firmly. "This is not acceptable."

School officials and community volunteers were trying to touch base with parents to make sure they were aware of both incidents and to give them resources to help their children.

"We've been going through a number of emotions all this week," said Carlson. "Guilt. Sadness. Anger. They want answers, and there are no answers to this type of tragedy."

Crisis teams, counselors and local pastors were in the school earlier this week to help students deal with the death of a high school freshman, and letters were sent home to parents with advice about talking to their children. The letter included the crisis hotline telephone number.

On Friday, news of the second death came as school was being dismissed for the weekend.

School officials quickly began calling parents and students to inform them of the second death, said Carlson.

For the second time in one week, the school was giving students the number of Woodland Centers' crisis intervention center: 320-231-9158.

Once again Carlson called the ministerial association, which held counseling sessions last night and had more planned for today at community churches.

"There are so many people that want to help. There are so many people that care," he said.

And once again Carlson was advising parents to know where their children are and who they're with and advising students to talk to a trusted adult.

"Parents need to talk to their children, and more important, they need to listen," said Carlson, speaking softly and with his head bowed during an interview early Friday evening at the high school as about 1,200 people streamed by his office to attend the annual sloppy-Joe supper fund-raiser and talent show.

The usually festive event had a somber tone last night.

"It's important that we support each other," said Carlson. "It's important that we support and respect the families impacted by these tragedies. It's important that we come together as a community. It's important to go to church and pray."

The task force that will meet Monday includes parents, school board members, professional counselors, pastors, county sheriff's department and other community representatives. Carlson said their first goal is to create a flyer that parents can put on the refrigerator with conversation-starters, resources and signs of suicide.

The next task will be to do something "heartfelt" and powerful as a community to "help our children," said Carlson.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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