Teen suicide: Community shares grief, ideas

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Alex and Kate Brenton, son and mother, attend a public forum on suicide at The Green Ladle in Lewiston on Thursday evening.

Tonya Bailey-Curry of Lewiston speaks at a public forum on suicide held at The Green Ladle in Lewiston on Thursday evening.

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Lindsey Crawford receives a hug from middle school guidance counselor Katharine Hildebrandt during a public forum on suicide held at The Green Ladle in Lewiston on Thursday evening.

LEWISTON — Almost everybody held it together until Lindsey Crawford stood up and advised them to remember Anie Graham.

Remember what Anie was like, the former Lewiston Middle School student told them, breaking down into tears. Remember the things she enjoyed and the person she was.

After that, there was sobbing in all corners of the room. The clinical part of the discussion was over. The emotional part was just beginning.

More than 200 people came to The Green Ladle in Lewiston on Thursday night to remember Graham and to discuss what may have driven the 13-year-old girl to suicide this week.

There were opinions and plenty of them. Several people stood to insist that the girl’s race was the main factor – that the school doesn’t do enough to protect minorities.

But Anie’s grandmother wasn’t buying it.

“Anie is not just a young black girl,” Paula Bolduc said. “When you start talking about race, then the issue becomes race.”

Once the discussion got underway, the discourse was lively and intensely emotional. The tone of the conversation ranged between outright despair and hope for the future – in a sad and tragic way, the death of Anie Graham may have saved other teens from similar fates.

Katherine Breton of Lewiston said the day it happened, she picked her 13-year-old daughter up from school. The girl was naturally distraught over the death of her friend and, like others, she wanted answers.

“She asked me ‘why?'” Breton said. “Why did she do this to herself?”

Breton’s daughter has since been admitted to a local hospital for psychiatric care, her mother said.

“She was having some issues,” Breton said. “I think this just brought it all into the light. She’s in a safe place right now.”

For many, the death of Anie Graham evinced painful memories.

Tonya Bailey-Curry, whose 21-year-old son committed suicide years ago, had advice for those who are hurting: not all questions can be answered. Searching too hard for someone to blame may be an approach that does more harm than good, she said.

“I was four years out and still had questions,” Curry said of her son’s death. “Anger is a real big part of this, I get that.”

She also gets how the grief-stricken desperately want to place their rage, guilt and sorrow somewhere. But, Bailey-Currey said, “there’s never going to be a place to put it.”

The two-hour community conversation was moderated by Greg Marley, a social worker with the National Alliance on Mental Health.

“I’m sure that every one of you is a little bit terrified,” Marley said to the group. “Everyone — everyone — is a little bit on edge, as we should be.”

Marley was clear about one thing: he didn’t know the details of Graham’s death or what drove her to it. He did offer, however, that there likely isn’t a single person or event that can be blamed.

“From what I know about suicide,” he said, “it’s usually more complex than that.”

It’s those complexities and unknowns that seemed to compel many local parents to join the conversation.

Bayley Scott, of Lewiston, said she came to the gathering because she has a 5-year-old in the school system. She wants to be prepared when her child is in the turbulent middle school years. She wants more parents to volunteer at the schools and for there to be much more conversation between kids and adults.

She wishes it had been done in time to save Graham.

“I think we failed as a community,” Scott said.

Breton, too, came to The Green Ladle with her son Alex, who’s still a few years shy of middle school.

“I brought him here because I think it’s important for him to hear some of this,” Breton said. “It’s a good way to start communicating.”

Bryan Church is the pastor of Lewiston South Baptist Church and the father of two adopted children. His son is a ninth-grader, Church said, and while he didn’t know Anie Graham, the boy was shaken by the death.

“He was certainly impacted,” Church said. “We know that a lot of teenagers are going through a variety of things. It’s good to know more about what resources there are out there. We, as parents, need help from time to time.”

His wife, Sue, had another concern: the exposure children have to shows like Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” and other sources of confusion and torment in an online age.

“You know what I’m most concerned with?” she asked. “The online bullying.”

It was a concern for many parents in the room.

For Breton, whose daughter is at an area hospital, the future is a frightening and uncertain place. Sooner or later, her daughter will go back to school and in spite of all the attention brought about by Graham’s death, the teen years will still be fraught with peril. Kids will still be kids.

“I’m scared that they’re going to push her over the edge,” Breton said, sobbing. “Please. Talk to your children and let them know that this is a serious thing – that this is not a joke.”

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