Over the long weekend, two Cortez Middle School students died by suicide, and one district high school student attempted suicide, according to school district officials.
“Anytime that we lose a student, that’s one too many students,” Superintendent Lori Haukeness told The Journal.
The two students who died were friends, Haukeness said, but it is not known Tuesday whether the incidents were related. While they were technically enrolled in the middle school, they had not been attending classes for some time, she said.
Haukeness confirmed that one of the students was 15-year-old Jeit Redrock Height. According to his obituary, was a lifelong resident of Towaoc. He is survived by his parents and seven siblings. Four brothers preceded him in death, the obituary said.
Haukeness declined to identify the other student.
The district on Tuesday emailed a letter to the school community regarding the deaths, urging families to speak with their children about their feelings.
“A young person’s death is always tragic, and a sudden loss like this can have a significant effect on surviving students, our school, and our community,” Haukeness wrote in the letter. “It is important that we recognize this loss and offer help. This is a sensitive issue for young people and their families, and we suggest that you talk with your children about their feelings.”
She added that both the middle and high school have extra counselors on hand this week to speak with students regarding grief and loss.
“The wellbeing and safety of our students, as educators, are at the forefront of our concern,” Haukeness said. “Our heartfelt condolences to the students’ families.”
The need for suicide prevention efforts within Montezuma-Cortez schools is recognized. At the district’s board meeting last week, two youth representatives from the Piñon Project spoke to the board advocating for Sources of Strength, a suicide prevention program, to be better implemented in Cortez schools.
“It is also important to let young people know that it is OK to ask for help from an adult if they or someone they know is struggling with depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide,” Haukeness said.
Montezuma County residents who are struggling with depression, substance abuse or suicidal thoughts may call Axis Health System’s 24-hour crisis hotline at 970-247-5245 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. Axis’ Montezuma County offices are at Cortez Integrated Healthcare, 691 E. Empire St.