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Boy, 9, commits suicide

NEW PORT RICHEY — Saturday was a typical evening in the Tyree household.

Jacqueline Tyree fixed cabbage, sausage and rice for dinner. Her 9-year-old son, Efrem, took his bath after dinner, then went to put on lotion while Jacqueline fixed her 7-year-old daughter's hair.

After a few moments of silence in her son's room, Jacqueline went to check on him and made a horrifying discovery:

Efrem was hanging from his closet shelf by two leather belts.

Jacqueline screamed, unlaced the belts and began CPR. A neighbor and paramedics tried to revive him, too, but it was too late.

Efrem, a fourth-grade honor roll student who earned his gold belt in karate this summer, was pronounced dead at Morton Plant North Bay Hospital.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has called the case a suicide. An autopsy is pending, but "preliminary results point to death by hanging," said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll.

Suicides among pre-adolescent children are rare.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there were 459 suicides nationwide among kids 12 and younger from 2000 to 2005, a rate of about 1.5 per 1-million.

By contrast, the suicide rate among teens was about 62 per million. People over 80 had the highest suicide rate, at 180 per million.

Other children — like 11-year-old Deneathia Service of St. Petersburg, who died in June — have died accidentally while trying to give themselves a high by asphyxiation.

Doll said there is no indication that's what happened to Efrem.

Experts once believed that children so young couldn't decide to kill themselves and mean it, though that thinking has changed.

"We tend to underrate kids' capacity for sadness, or the possibility that kids will be suffering so much that ending their lives seems like a viable solution or maybe the only solution," said Dr. Gregory Fritz, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I.

"We've gradually come to realize that little kids — certainly kids in the school-age years — can experience depression so profound to make them want to kill themselves. And they can make a plan and do it," Fritz said.

Fritz said younger children tend to try less lethal means, such as jumping off the garage roof or running into traffic.

"They typically are more impulsive than adults or teenagers. They don't usually leave notes or make a real elaborate plan," he said.

Younger kids are also easier to reach and put back on the right track, Fritz said.

They're not good at hiding their depression, and Fritz advises parents to take it seriously when well-adjusted children suddenly begin having problems in school or with friends.

Efrem moved to New Port Richey this summer with his mother and siblings after his parents divorced, according to the Sheriff's Office. Jacqueline Tyree, 44, is a social worker; Winston Tyree, 64, is a retired sales executive. The family previously lived near Fort Myers.

Jacqueline Tyree told deputies that her son had some recent difficulty at school.

Manuel Goncalves, the principal at the Athenian Academy charter school in Pasco that Efrem attended, said the boy was a "good student" who appeared to be a happy child.

"He helped other children in art after school, and he was very friendly," Goncalves said. "I never had him in my office for problems."

Goncalves said students will be told today about Efrem's death. Grief counselors will be on hand.

"He was a wonderful child to have," he said. "It's like losing one of my sons."

Efrem loved social studies, riding his bike and fishing, his parents said. He was born Winston Efrem, but everyone called him by his middle name.

He had two older brothers, an older sister and a younger sister named Wynter, 7, who was home the night he died.

"She adored him, and he looked out for her," said Jacqueline Tyree.

On Monday, in the driveway of her home, Jacqueline Tyree noted what she would miss the most about her son.

"His presence," she said.

. FAST FACTS

Hotline help

The following suicide prevention hotlines provide toll-free support 24 hours a day, seven days a week:

• 1-800-784-2433

• 1-800-273-8255

On the Web

To sign a online guest book for Efrem Tyree, go to links.tampabay.com.

Boy, 9, commits suicide 11/24/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 28, 2008 7:19pm]
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