KINGSLEY — Four weeks ago, the Kingsley community was shocked and devastated by a child committing suicide.
Five months before that, the Kingsley community was shocked and devastated by a child committing suicide.
Three months before that, the Kingsley community was shocked and devastated by a child committing suicide.
Three children — 16-year-old DeAnte Bland, 14-year-old Kayden Stone, 14-year-old Shealynn Pobuda — gone in less than eight months.
As the healing continues for some and just begins for others, members of the small village are coming together to help ease the pain of these tragedies and trying to prevent more from happening in the future.
Melissa Schichtel, Bland's aunt, is helping to organize a viewing of the film "The Ripple Effect," a true-life story of Kevin Hines, who at age 19, attempted to take his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. The movie will be shown at 6:30 p.m. at Kingsley High School on Thursday, March 7. Admission is free as are snacks and drinks and an entry to win prizes.
Hines survived the fall and is now a mental health advocate, motivational speaker and author who travels the world spreading a message of hope, recovery and wellness. The film chronicles his journey and the effect it had on those who have been impacted by his suicide attempt and his life's work since. The film also highlights the stories of individuals and families using their personal tragedy to bring hope and healing to others.
"It's an awesome movie," Schichtel said. "That school has been nothing but supportive for my family. They went above and beyond."
Kingsley Area Schools Superintendent Keith Smith said they have been in contact with the director of the Michigan chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as well as grief counselors from several local organizations and the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District as they try to recover from these losses.
Smith sees things getting better, but he is still aware this is a dangerous time.
"There is kind of a sense that things have kind of returned to normal, but that's a very precarious position to be in," Smith said. "The emotions people felt two weeks ago don't just go away. They're still there, and we still know we've got to get kids a different set of skills to deal with this stuff. We know that we have to continue on with the plan to get people help."
Kingsley teachers will undergo hours of training this week to help prevent suicides and spot signs in children who might be in danger. Smith said they are also considering more intensive mental health curriculum for students and will host a parent information night about suicides on April 3.
"We want to make sure that message is on point and on target with what we want to do," he said. "Some of the programs might resonate with some people, and other programs might resonate with other people. Maybe we'll have to find a fourth or fifth thing to reach everyone else. We're just trying to do everything we can for the kids and the parents."
Marv Nordeen, a school psychologist with TBAISD who has worked with the Kingsley community for 25 years, has acted as a coach to teachers and other staff at Kingsley throughout this process. He said providing that structure and making sure they ask the right questions and give the right answers is paramount to protecting the students. It's all about caring for the caregivers, he said.
"When you're in it, you're numb to it. You're not thinking about all the possibilities and all of the issues that should be addressed and looked out for," Nordeen said. "We want to make sure that we are there for these people so they can be there for others."
The Rock of Kingsley youth center is also hosting a community healing event from 5-8 p.m. on Saturday, March 16. Executive Director Diane Walton said it will be an opportunity for members of the community to share their "hurts and their angers."
"We need to allow everybody to express how they're feeling so we can get an idea of what we can do to move forward, both as a school and as a community," Walton said. "We know there's hurt out here and fear and anger. Those are all negative responses, and we need to be a little more positive in our response to what we can do for each other."