Suicide of GHS student leaves community in shock

Superintendent of Schools William McKersie, at center, addressed the tragedy at an afternoon press conference with, at left, First Selectman Peter Tesei and, at right, Selectman David Theis and Chief of Police James Heavey. — Ken Borsuk photo

Superintendent of Schools William McKersie, at center, addressed the tragedy at an afternoon press conference with, at left, First Selectman Peter Tesei and, at right, Selectman David Theis and Chief of Police James Heavey. — Ken Borsuk photo

An investigation into the suicide of 15-year-old Greenwich boy Bartlomiej “Bart” Palosz is ongoing as friends and family attempt to come to grips with the tragedy.

Few details have been released about the death of the Greenwich High School sophomore except that it was Tuesday night from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Lt. Kraig Gray said on Wednesday that the preliminary investigation has revealed that the gun used was owned by the teenager’s family and had been stored inside a gun locker.

“With respect to both the family and the sensitive nature of this type of investigation, no other information will be released at this time,” Lt. Gray said.

At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Chief of Police James Heavey said the department would not comment on “speculated information” about why this happened except that “a number of issues are being investigated.”

There have been several reports from family and fellow students that Bart had been a long-term target of bullying. At the press conference, Superintendent William McKersie said he couldn’t get into specifics because of the ongoing investigation, but acknowledged there were questions to be asked.

“It’s an ongoing investigation regarding anything related to Bart’s decision and we’re looking into that,” Dr. McKersie said. “We have to look deeply into this.”

Tuesday was the first day of the new school year and Dr. McKersie was asked if he knew of any specific incident that might have led to this. Dr. McKersie said he couldn’t respond to that because of the investigation but said it was being looked into carefully.

Dr. McKersie called this “an incredibly sad moment for all of us in Greenwich” and said the investigation into what had happened and why was being taken “very, very seriously.” He mentioned the use of social media in today’s schools, calling it a “new time in terms of social media and things that are shared and things that are said that might not be meant” but added it was unclear yet if this led to the suicide.

Even “setting aside this tragedy” Dr. McKersie said more had to be done, calling this a “wake up call.”

“Any parent needs to say ‘How do I monitor what my child is doing?’” Dr. McKersie said. “If I’m a young adult in the schools or in the community and I see something online just don’t let it sit. It’s like when someone says something in the hallway. You’ve got to follow up on it. That’s for all of us.”

First Selectman Peter Tesei spoke as well at the press conference and was visibly emotional.

“No words can express the pain that the family and community feels, but we stand here in support of the family and of the broader community of friends to work with them and to stand with them in this time of horrific tragedy,” Mr. Tesei said.

Mr. Tesei added that the town was concerned about the “ripple effects of incidents like this” and pledged to “be there for our young people, particularly at Greenwich High School, but throughout the community.”

To help people needing counseling at this time, GHS has all its regular staff there as well as additional support from the school district and from Kids in Crisis. Dr. McKersie said resources have been deployed to GHS as well as Western Middle School and New Lebanon School, all of which Bart attended. He reported that there had been a lot of use of support staff on Wednesday and, while kids were going to counselors and support staff they already knew, the extra resources would be available as long as they were needed.

Chief Heavey said that Kids in Crisis and the police department’s Special Victims Section would be available throughout the Labor Day weekend if there is a need for help or support when schools are closed.

“We will do everything we can and utilize all the resources to see to it that the support is given to our young people, to this family and to any other young people who require help under these difficult circumstances,” Mr. Tesei said.

In a statement Wednesday morning, the district seemed to acknowledge the bullying charges without specifically addressing them.

“We take seriously the importance of a positive school climate and the safety and well-being of our students and staff,” the district said. “Any indications that a student is experiencing significant mental health distress is addressed at the school level by personnel trained to recognize and respond to these concerns. Importantly, if any staff member believes that a student poses a danger to him/herself, or others, parents are notified and the student is immediately referred to outside supports and providers.”

The police offered several potential sources for help for people in a crisis, including 911 and the United Way of Connecticut’s Crisis Hotline at 211. Additional help can be found from the Department of Children and Families Careline/Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services at 1-800-842-2288, the National Hopeline at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433), the National Lifeline at 1-800-275-TALK (8255). Kids In Crisis can be reached at 203-327-5437

“Resources are available in our community and specifically to our young people who might be facing challenges of any kind, please, please avail yourselves of these resources whether they be in your school or outside the school, whether they be faith based organizations or non-governmental or social services or whether they’re a mentor,” Mr. Tesei said. “These resources are in our town. Please know that there is always somebody there to help and you’re not alone.”

 

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