Tragic teen deaths spark support for students

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS, Fla. -- After two tragic teen deaths in Clay County within the last month, many parents are concerned for their children. First Coast News has chosen not to discuss specific details surrounding the deaths, instead, we are focusing on our mission: how we can serve you, our community.

One of the biggest challenges school counselors say parents face is keeping track of what their child is doing on social media. According to the statistic brain research institute, 22 percent of teenagers log on to Facebook more than 10 times a day. Now, monitoring them may not always prevent a tragedy from happening, but counselors say it's a good way to find out what your child is thinking, feeling and doing.

Ellie Wortham is an eighth grader at Keystone Heights Junior High. She wants to become a veterinarian someday. After school, she takes care of a pig she's been raising for several months for the FFA. Most days she's a happy middle schooler, but some days she says going to school is difficult.

"They just like to spread rumors about everybody," said Ellie.

Ellie says dealing with rumors, gossip and forms of bullying is the nature of being a teenager and then the internet makes it worse.

"People when they are on the internet, they don't know it hurts, they feel like they are not really saying it to their face," said Ellie.

After the recent tragedies at Keystone Heights Junior/Senior High, Ellie's mother is worried about the students.

"It's horrendous. It makes you afraid because the children are not getting something, there's something missing out there that they are not getting," said Joanna Wortham, Ellie's mother.

Clay County School District Public Information Officer Gavin Rollins says schools are equipped with the resources and counselors to help troubled teens but parents have to do their part.

Ellie says she talks with her mom all the time. Rollins says parents need to initiate conversations with their children and ask specific questions. "To be aware to be looking if there's changes in behavior changes in mood."

And if something seems off, school officials say seek help from the school or professionals.

"If you feel like you don't know how to approach your child about that then feel free to come in and discuss that with the school and the school will provide you with resources and some training on how to discuss it," said Rollins.

The Clay County School District is providing a crisis hotline number for parents who think their children need private counseling. Call 1-800-273-TALK. Another crisis hotline for all in Northeast Florida is 1-800-346-6185.


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