The mood at Johnston High School is solemn this week after students learned that their 16-year-old classmate, Liza Archilla, committed suicide last Thursday.
“The mood is a somber mood but the students are doing OK. On Monday they all wore purple as a show of solidarity and support for the student that passed away,” said Superintendent Dr. Bernard Di Lullo.
On Saturday, students gathered at Johnston War Memorial Park for a candlelight vigil.
Calls to JHS Principal Gerry Foley were not returned yesterday.
According to Archilla’s obituary, the JHS sophomore was born in Puerto Rico, the daughter of Gonzola Archilla of Cranston and Sheila Ann Archilla of Johnston. Visiting hours are scheduled for today from 5 to 8 p.m. at Nardolillo Funeral Home, but the funeral services are private.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that memorial contributions be made to the DCYF Teen Christmas Gift Fund.
The teenager’s death has sparked an outpouring of support from classmates, friends and strangers alike. A Facebook page, R.I.P. Liza Marie Archilla, had 948 members as of 4 p.m. Wednesday. Messages of condolences have likewise been left on networking website Tumblr, and the news has inspired several hundred messages on Twitter.
Multiple users of these social media sites have claimed that the suicide was the result of bullying. Di Lullo said that is unequivocally false.
“Those are unfounded claims. This situation has nothing to do with that,” he said.
The reasoning behind Archilla’s actions remains unclear, but Johnston High School students have begun using the news as a platform for suicide prevention, Tweeting about resources available to young people in need of help.
At the high school, those resources were made available earlier this week.
“On Monday we had counselors at the school to help students cope with the passing of the student,” Di Lullo said. “We want to make sure anyone that’s having difficulty dealing with the passing is taken care of.”
More often, he said, the students turn to one another for support.
“The Johnston High School is a pretty tight community to begin with. Even in tragedy, they do pull together and that’s with the faculty, staff and students,” he said. “They’re doing things that are helping them cope.”
Locally, residents can seek help through social service organizations like the Tri-Town Community Action Agency. Tri-Town has offered a licensed behavioral health department staffed with clinical social workers for more than 20 years.
“We do help people overcome problems that affect them, their families and their friends,” said Tri-Town CEO Joseph DeSantis.
The health department offers individual, couple and family therapy sessions, covering such issues as anxiety, depression, trauma and suicide.
“We cover pretty much the whole gamut,” he said.
Tri-Town offers grief counseling as well. He encouraged Johnston residents to take advantage of these resources, and said that fees are charged on a sliding scale. If a young person wants to come in to talk to someone but does not want to involve their parents, Tri-Town will work with them.
The Samaritans of Rhode Island also offer suicide prevention services, and their website includes an emergency checklist for individuals who may suspect their loved one is at risk of committing suicide. If someone is at immediate risk, they should call 911.
Even if the risk isn’t imminent, however, the Samaritans recommend that individuals take their instincts and fears seriously. Treat depression as a serious disease, and don’t let the symptoms go untreated. Although many people assume that asking a loved one about their suicidal thoughts could plant the seed, so to speak, the Samaritans maintain that asking shows you care, which could spark a conversation that brings the person to a better place mentally. The most important thing to do is report your concerns, and let the loved one know that you are there for them. Listen to them and offer to go along if they are seeking care.
To contact the Tri-Town Community Action Agency, call 351-2750. The Good Samaritans’ suicide hotline, which is available 24 hours a day, can be reached at 272-4044 or toll free at 1-800-365-4044.