Community reacts, school reaches out as two Stark County teens found dead in woods

CANAL FULTON, OH – Four moms stand in prayer just inside a Canal Fulton school Saturday afternoon. They’re doing the only thing they believe will help their community, which has been plagued by teen suicide in recent months.

“After hearing the news what happened here last night we felt like we needed to come to Canal Fulton and just cover the school district and families in prayer,” said Julie Gonzalez.

Two of the four women are from Jackson Township, where a week ago, a middle school student brought a gun to school and shot himself in the bathroom.

Friday night, Canal Fulton police found two Northwest High School students dead in the woods, both were shot in the head. Canal Fulton police say the teens’ parents contacted police asking for them to help check on their kids.

“They were nice students. I saw them walking with each other Friday afternoon prior to me leaving school,” said Officer Dennis Muntean who is the school resource officer for Northwest High School.

Jackson Township police are investigating the situation because the two were found just inside the Jackson Township limits. They say it is unclear whether this is a murder-suicide or a double suicide. The teens, a boy and girl, were found in a wooded area about a mile from a neighborhood street. Police say a handgun was nearby.

“It was shock. I didn’t think it could happen at our schools. We have a very close-knit school; people get along very well. Yeah, it was kind of hard to believe,” Officer Muntean said.

Muntean has been the SRO with the district for about five years and says this is the first major tragedy Northwest High School has experienced during his time there.

Saturday, more than 100 students came to the school to comfort each other and meet with counselors, coaches and teachers.

“The students that came to us are very upset because they’re young people. There are a lot of things going through their minds and our first concern of course are the families of the two students,” said Northwest Local Schools Superintendent Mike Shreffler.

Shreffler says the school will have certified counselors on campus all day Monday and as long as students need them in the days following.

“You don’t have to talk to a counselor. It might be a custodian, it might be a lunch lady, or a teacher, or the superintendent. Somebody is there at the school to talk to and help you through what you’re going through,” Shreffler said.

Dustin Zellers is a senior at the school and says he knew of the two students who were a junior and sophomore.

“Just to think that somebody is in that horrible of a place, it just makes you think everybody has something. You can’t judge people from their outer appearance because they could have something going on that you’re completely unaware of,” Zellers said.

Zellers also added he and a friend are talking about starting a club where they reach out to underclassmen and people who might feel they have nowhere to turn.

“I’m praying for the families and everybody involved,” Zellers said.

Superintendent Shreffler says while the school is a place for students to come for healing and community, it is also a resource for parents.

“Come to us. We’re used to that. We’re trained for that. Come to us for the support that you need. We are partners in the raising of your young people,” he said.

It’s believed the students had some kind of relationship and were frequently seen together on campus. Canal Fulton police say it will likely take a pathologist’s analysis to determine the exact nature of the tragedy.