PATEROS – For the second time in less than a month, the south Okanogan County area has been struck by the suicide of a high school student.
The morning of April 12, Pateros High School student Nate Hart, 16, took his own life. On March 17, a Brewster High School student also died from suicide.
Pateros secondary students were informed April 12 and counseling was provided by Pateros staff, Okanogan Behavioral HealthCare and counselors from the Brewster School District, said Superintendent Greg Goodnight in a letter to parents. Counseling was available all week.
“Students will react to this tragic event with different emotions,” said Goodnight. “Please let students know that their feelings are valid. It is very important for all of us to know that if anyone is not feeling well in any way, to reach out for help.”
The district provided suicide prevention information, and also said health care officials advise parents to spend as much time as possible with their children.
Elementary students were not informed by school staff.
“If your child wants to talk, the recommendation is to answer their questions simply, honestly and be prepared to answer the same question repeatedly,” said Goodnight.
“The week following the recent tragedy in Pateros has been a very difficult week at school,” said Goodnight on April 19. “Pateros School District very much appreciates the support our staff and students have received from Brewster School District and Okanogan Behavioral HealthCare.”
Only7Seconds, a suicide support and awareness group that assisted after Cade Gebbers’ March 17 death in Brewster, is offering support to Hart’s family.
“This loss has been deeply felt across our local communities,” said the group on social media. “There is no specific process for grief. Just as each life is unique and special, grief looks different for each person. Each situation is unique, with specific requests and needs.”
“We will also be working to support the Pateros community and be involved with anyone needing support during this time,” said Only7Seconds.
As of April 19, the gofundme.com page had raised $15,777 from 153 donors toward a $20,000 goal.
“Carrie asks that you all hold your kids a little tighter, love them harder,” said the page description. Sarah Molina organized the fundraiser.
In collaboration with Hart’s family, Only7Seconds has created a limited edition “Because You Matter” hat to honor his life.
Hats can be ordered by May 1 at https://bit.ly/2RyzGRZ. All proceeds support the memorial service and associated expenses.
Goodnight said the Pateros district has discussed the issue of a broader health care need with Dr. Malcolm Butler, health officer with Chelan-Douglas Health District, and Dr. James Wallace, health officer with Okanogan County Public Health.
Dave Rodriguez, Okanogan County coroner, said he’s heard concerns about an uptick in youth suicides, possibly related to COVID-19. During a statewide teleconference last week involving coroners and medical examiners, that was one of the topics.
No trends were reported.
“There’s nothing to show a dramatic wave of youth suicide,” he said, adding that in areas with smaller populations – such as Okanogan County – people seem to be more aware when there is such a death. Social media posts also assist in spreading word of a teen’s death.
Okanogan County has had three teen suicides in the past few months, one at the end of 2020 in the Omak area, plus Gebbers and Hart. For the past six years, during Rodriguez’ tenure as coroner, the county has averaged about 10 per year for people of all ages.
“It feels like something to be looked at,” he said. “I hope that we don’t have a trend here.”
Just as Pateros offered support to the Brewster district immediately after Gebbers died, the Brewster district lent its support to Pateros.
“Friends, families, colleagues, neighbors, you are in our thoughts and prayers,” the Brewster district posted on its Facebook page along with a picture of a Billygoat, the Pateros mascot.
Cade Gebbers’ mother, Nichole Gebbers, posted that she is praying for Pateros, for all the kids, families and friends. Several others offered their prayers and support, too.
“My deepest condolences to the family and community,” wrote Pedro Sandoval Camarillo, Omak, on the Pateros district Facebook page. “Very tragic.”
“This breaks my heart,” wrote Geri Hough Elsensohn, East Wenatchee.