Parents, community react to Kasson-Mantorville student’s suicide

/ 1 May 2012 / jennifer


Jeff Hansel, Rochester Post-Bulletin, May 1, 2012 –

Kasson-Mantorville seventh grader Rachel Ehmke, 13, took her own life because of bullying, her parents believe.

“Those words, they have that much power,” said her father, Rick Ehmke. “Some kids just take those words to heart, and it kills — it killed my daughter.”

Rachel’s death is having a ripple effect on social media. Students at area schools have been posting their grief on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr and other sites since shortly after she died Sunday.

“People have been reporting some of the Facebook posts to us, and there are certain kids throughout the middle school that we really need to keep an eye on,” K-M Superintendent Mark Matuska said.

Posts after Rachel’s death describe a variety of responses, including anger at bullies and a deep sense of loss.

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Matuska encouraged students who are struggling to handle the death to contact an adult, whether it’s an adviser, a counselor, a social worker, the principal or someone else.

“We don’t want the kids to feel unwelcome and unsafe at school,” he said.

The school system began an anti-bullying program this year, said Matuska, who has kids in Kasson-Mantorville schools.

“It’s hard, because this is the first time many of these kids have ever experienced any type of loss like this,” Matuska said. Students as well as adults sought out assistance that the school system made available Monday.

Rick Ehmke and Rachel’s mother, Mary Ehmke, said they want all kids to be supported, including those who bullied their daughter.

“They’re all really good kids,” Mary Ehmke said. “They just made some bad decisions.”

It’s important for both students and adults to have someone to reflect with them, console them and counsel them, Matuska said. He and Rachel’s parents marvel at the outpouring of support since Rachel died.

But Rick Ehmke said he believes Rachel could have been saved had immediate intervention occurred on Friday when bullying reignited. He said that he and Rachel’s mom were alerted to words that might be considered a threat — that Rachel should “pack her (expletives) and leave the school.”

Testing that day apparently prevented an intervention. If bullying is reported, all other activities should stop while the school, family and friends intervene, Rick Ehmke said.

In today’s society, he said, it wasn’t possible for his daughter to escape bullying. She’d go home on weekends, and the bullying would continue on Facebook. He wants to make clear that retaliation isn’t the answer.

“Even the bullies obviously need some help,” he said. “They need to be aware that they have the right to that same help.”

Matuska said privacy prevents him from discussing individual student bullying.

“We’re going to try to get back on our feet as soon as we possibly can,” he said, “but this is a tough issue for a lot of us in the community to deal with.”

Tough, too, for Rachel’s family, including two older brothers and an older sister.

“She took a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” Rick Ehmke said. “I just want kids to know that communication is key, whether it’s the parents, the kids, the school. It needs to happen right now.”

When to seek help </p>

If your child, student or friend is struggling, seek help from a trusted adult such as a counselor if he or she:

• Stops talking or becomes very reserved and quiet.

• Can’t sleep.

• Exhibits abnormal behavior.

• Cries a lot.

• Starts giving possessions away.

• Says something on social media such as Facebook or Twitter that would cause concern if it was said to you in person.

• Talks about life not being worth living.

What else should you know?

• Kids should know it’s OK to feel sad and to talk about what happened.

• One of the most prevalent reasons for hospitalization at Mayo Clinic in Rochester is victimization, such as bullying.

• Parents need to know what kids are doing online, so they should be “friends” with their kids on social media.

• It’s OK for kids to have some normal privacy with friends online to talk about their feelings, but parents should get involved when friends aren’t able to help. Thus, monitoring what kids do online is important.

• If you’re worried about a particular student, call a school counselor, parent or both.

• Engage your kids in conversation. Ask how they’re feeling today, or ask how they feel about what happened.

(Sources: Mark Bronson, therapist at Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center and Dr. Leslie Sim, a child psychologist at Mayo Clinic)</td>