A popular high school student died violently in her living room last week, and we didn't tell you about it.
The decision didn't come easy. We kept a reporter at the scene much of the day, and she witnessed the same things everybody else in the upscale west Pasco subdivision saw: lots of police, ambulances, crying kids, yellow crime scene tape. Those people no doubt figured they could depend on the newspaper to tell them what happened in their neighborhood. But we didn't.
Most suicides don't make it into the paper. Those involving a murder or an especially well-known person do, as well as some that take place in a public forum. With suicide, the list of victims goes well beyond the dead, and we generally try to protect their families from further grief or humiliation.
Still, this was a young girl.
As we gathered to debate whether to report that she had somehow obtained a handgun and shot herself, we wondered why anyone so young could get so desperate. The subject of teen suicide is so dark and troubling that perhaps all cases should be reported and then thoroughly dissected so others might be prevented.
Just last October, in a random survey of 1,372 Pasco County high school students, one in four girls stated they had tried to commit suicide in the past year. I'm not sure you can find anyone who believes the figure, especially since there does not seem to be a great rush of students to hospitals or the morgue. It is, nevertheless, disturbing.
On Friday, I called a friend to set up a weekend golf match. After some small talk, he said he wanted to commend the Times for not reporting the suicide of the teenager, whom he knew from athletics and school. He prides himself on sizing up people, in determining whether they are happy and mentally secure. He was shocked when he heard that this girl had killed herself _ that he couldn't see it coming.
It was the same comment our reporter heard from her neighbors and classmates, over and over. Perhaps, had she been more outwardly distressed, she might have gotten the help she needed to get her through whatever it was that consumed her.
As a parent of two young girls, I have a personal stake in understanding the pressures they face. They are showered with love and attention, but will that be enough when a romance goes sour or there is some other dramatic failure that brings on depression?
But were I not a parent, I still would want to know what it is that brings people with so much promise to end their lives.
Teen suicide is a chilling mystery. And while I think we made the right decision last week not to report the death of the 15-year-old west Pasco girl, I cannot as easily dismiss it from my thoughts.
There is a story to be written. But there is only one reason: to further our understanding of the factors that lead to such tragedies, and therefore possibly prevent them.
Bill Stevens is the bureau chief for the North Suncoast editions of the St. Petersburg Times.