Stark County community tries to heal after six school district suicides

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PERRY TOWNSHIP, Stark County, Ohio – The 2017-2018 school year has been exceptionally difficult for the Perry Local Schools community. Earlier this month the school district called it a ‘suicide contagion.’ School officials say six present or former students in the district have committed suicide this school year.

“We have people that are hurting, people that have felt the tragedy, personally. Friends, family, our teachers here at the church are still hurting. We have students that attend this church that are Perry High School students and so we feel like this is our way of reaching out,” said Pastor Keith Blaylock of New Life Tabernacle church in Massillon.

New Life Tabernacle hosted a prayer meeting for the community Sunday to bring healing and encouragement.

Beth Philley, a mom of a Perry High School senior, plans to attend the prayer meeting but also started a group with other parents to tackle the issue of suicide among teens in the community.

“This needs to be more long-term. Something is going on that is making our kids feel like there is nowhere to turn and there is nothing that can be done to improve their lives and we have to find a way to fix that,” Philley said.

Some parents and students have suggested bullying may have contributed to the suicides, but Perry Township Police maintain there is so far no evidence to support that.

Philley says there was a large response from parents and community members earlier in the year, but as time passed it lessened after the suicides interest decreased. She says their group needs more volunteers.

“We need people to actually go out and do the work. If we’re going to have student engagement groups or parent support groups or any of those kinds of things we need to have people involved who are willing to do the work,” she said.

Blaylock says he hopes his church can become a place of rest, healing and comfort for the entire community. He has a simple message to all who feel they have nowhere to turn.

“Hope is not dead. Hope is alive and well. It’s just you feel like your blind to it, but hope’s alive and I want to show you that there are people that are here that are there for you,” he said.

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