Shawnee Mission Northwest students this morning will gather for a presentation from Johnson County Mental Health on how to cope in the wake of the loss of two of their classmates to suicide this week.
Following news of the deaths — one Monday and one Wednesday — a large group of Northwest parents have quickly organized to show support for students who may be struggling and to raise awareness of suicide prevention resources. A number of the parents met by the school’s back doors Wednesday to greet students as they exited the building. This morning, more gathered at both the front and back entrances holding signs with positive messages on them. Some parents brought balloons and flowers to hand out to students. Elementary students in the area have been aiding in the efforts as well, writing positive notes that they’ve sent to the school.
Word of the first death shocked the community Monday afternoon after a student identified as Steven Cohenour took his life. Cohenour’s family issued a statement on his death that was sent to Northwest families on Tuesday:
There are no words to express the depths of our loss and we realize that there are many in the SMNW community that were also touched by the light that we knew as Steven. Thank you for all of your thoughts and expressions of support. We hope that all can celebrate his life, remembering his friendship and laughter. We can only move through this time of grief one step at a time, depending on each other as one big family.
The district was in the process of addressing the loss of Cohenour — arranging to have more counselors and social workers available to talk with students in the coming days — when news of the second suicide came Wednesday morning. The identity of the second student has not been released.
The school district announced that in addition to the assembly for students this morning, it will host a presentation on handling grief in the wake of a suicide as well as suicide prevention at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the school. That presentation will also be organized by Johnson County Mental Health.
Northwest Principal Lisa Gruman issued a message to school families Wednesday expressing gratitude for the support the community has received in recent days:
As we face these incredibly difficult losses, we have been so grateful to the outpouring of support from our community and the caring professionalism of our staff. I am continuously reminded how special our Northwest family and community are – Shawnee Mission Northwest is home to generations of Cougars and our pride and care for our school runs deep. The great compassion that surrounds our students from our parents, staff, and community is humbling.
SM Northwest is not the only Johnson County high school coming to terms with the loss of a student this week. Overland Park police shot and killed 17-year-old John Albers on Saturday night after he drove a car out of his garage and toward an officer. Police had arrived at the home after receiving a report of a suicidal individual.
Shocked to hear about multiple suicides at SMNW over the last 48 hours. Heartbreaking. Please if you are suffering call a friend, call a professional. I promise it gets better. Hug your loved ones extra tight tonight.
— Tom Cox (@tomcox4ks) January 24, 2018
Two students have committed suicide at my high school alma mater SMNW. Suicide is never the answer & always leaves multiple victims in its path including friends and family. Hope and help are available. Call 800-273-8255, 24/7, if you need help. #SuicidePrevention — Brandon Kenig (@BrandonKenig) January 24, 2018
I’ll say it again. In light of the 2 SMNW deaths, please reach out to someone if you are feeling low. You need to know that no permanent solution to a temporary issue is ever the answer.
You need to talk? Reach out to me. Anytime. Life is so precious. Every minute.
— Tony Budetti (@TonyBudetti) January 25, 2018