The California town of Woodbridge is reeling after an 11-year-old boy died of a gunshot wound in what the media was calling an apparent suicide. He was on a Zoom call attending a distance learning class at Woodbridge Elementary School. Since publication, the boy has been identified by the family as Adan Llanos.
UPDATED 12/04/2020: The family addresses allegations of suicide. Details below.
According to Adan’s sister, his audio and video was not turned on when she heard the gunfire. She ran from a separate room– where she was also attending a virtual class –and found her brother. After informing her Zoom classroom, she ran to a neighbor, who called 911.
“The sister [came] here, banging on the door,” a neighbor who called for help told NBC affiliate KCRA. “That little boy was one the nicest little boys you’ll ever want to know. He was special. Easygoing. He was the type of person who would never hurt anybody. Soft-spoken, with a beautiful smile.”
The boy died at the hospital. Response from the school district was swift.
“We are deeply saddened to share that a student from Woodbridge Elementary School passed away today as a result of a gunshot wound,” wrote Cathy Nichols-Washer, Lodi Unified School District Superintendent. “Counseling and bereavement support services are available to students and staff during this difficult time.”
“Our thoughts are with the family affected by this terrible tragedy. We also offer our condolences to the Woodbridge Elementary community,” she added.
Suicide Among Teens Is On the Rise
According to the most recent CDC survey, teenage suicide is on the rise. The nationally representative sample of high school students, which is released every two years, was meaningful. “Data from 2019 reflect substantial differences by demographics regarding suicidal ideation and behaviors,” the survey’s authors concluded.
Brandon Stratford, Director of Education Research at Child Trends, points out that suicide is the second most frequent cause of death among teens (accidents are the first). Looking at the survey, he found that overall, “one in six of them reported having thought about suicide and 12 months prior to taking the survey. And then, one in six had actually made a plan, and then about one in 10 reported having actually attempted suicide in the past year.”
Add the isolation of the pandemic into these statistics, and suicide risks rise even more.
According to a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP), there are now children and adolescents with higher rates of depression and anxiety resulting from the required isolation and loneliness of COVID-19.
UPDATED: Family Responds to Suicide Allegations
Luis Llano, who identified himself as Adan’s uncle, denied reports that the boy had committed suicide.
“He was a wonderful child full of life and joy. He was the most respectful and sweetest boy ive ever had the honor of calling my nephew!” Luis wrote on Facebook. “I ask of [you] guys to please help our family in need, if at least share the post! We ask of you all to please refrain from any speculation and if you see any comments politely ask them to only say positive things. He was not suicidal!”
He continued, “This young man was an angel that we had the privilege of knowing! We thank each and everyone of you for your love and prayers; it is really needed.”
Luis’ wife, Stephanie, added to the sentiment on Facebook, asking anyone who saw reports of suicide to help “shut it down.” She states in her post, “This was a freak accident and our nephew was a happy kid. Right now seeing those comments is what is the most hurtful to the family and I can use all the help I can get with this. Thank you.”
So far, there has been no statement about how Adan got the loaded gun. Authorities are still investigating the incident.
Locals Respond to the Tragedy
In the town of Woodbridge, the grief and confusion over this tragedy has just begun.
“He was very loving,” Woodbridge Elementary Principal Neil Young said on Thursday to Lodi News, according to Iodinews.com. “He always cared about others and always paid attention to when someone around him was feeling down. He was always looking to put a smile on people’s faces.”
He added that the district’s mental health team has done Zoom calls with classes and students who wanted the support.
Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs offered his condolences to the child’s family and friends.
“During this time, we have to check in on each other and our children, and know that community is the antidote to crisis,” he wrote on Twitter. “We have to prioritize our children as we persist through this pandemic.”
My heart goes out to the family, classmates @lodiusd and the wider community. During this time, we have to check in on each other and our children, and know that community is the antidote to crisis. We have to prioritize our children as we persist through this pandemic.— Michael Tubbs (@MichaelDTubbs) December 3, 2020
Meanwhile, Adan’s extended family has set up a GoFundMe page. So far they have raised $26,480, which is above their $10,000 goal.
Listening to Kids
Regardless of whether or not this was a suicide, experts note that taking time out to talk to your children and acknowledge their fears and anxieties, is key. Isolation and loneliness, often present in childhood and teens, is amplified by online school and stay at home orders.
If you are concerned about your child (or someone else’s), contacting an organization like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be a lifesaver.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.