Teen Suicide Capital: El Paso County's ‘Heart-wrenching’ Problem Tops In The State

Posted 11/22/2016

The end of last school year was horrible, says 14-year-old Emma Hollis. The hurt and pain were almost too much to bear.

Five students at her school, Discovery Canyon Campus, had committed suicide in the second semester.

"It was a very hard thing to interpret," Emma said Thursday, choking back tears.

This school year, kids are seeing "a different way of interpreting" the sad story, she said.

Lining the top of every hallway of the large preschool through high school campus in Academy School District 20 is a continuous chain of thousands of paper koi fish that students, teachers, parents, custodians and other staff created.

It's a symbol of unity and hope, says art teacher Shell Acker.

"Our kids don't have enough tricks in their handbags to know that tomorrow will be a better day," Acker said. "The installation shows them to keep swimming and that we are swimming right along with them."

The "Keep Swimming," project encourages students to "push forward and never give up and say you can't do it," Emma said.

"People are going through tough times," she said. "This is a constant reminder - (the fish) are always hanging in the hallways."

Colorado Springs consistently ranks at the top of many national lists, including best places to live, but it also appears to be gaining an unwanted reputation as a hotbed of teen suicide. And this year isn't any different.

Shortly after school started, a student at The Classical Academy, a charter school, took his life on school grounds.

In recent weeks, two young people living on Fort Carson committed suicide, according to the El Paso County Coroner's Office.

Those deaths have pushed this year's total to 15 suicide fatalities of children ages 10 to 17. That tops last year's record of 14 deaths in that age group, the Coroner's Office says. About half were from gunshot wounds and half hangings.

"It's obviously not the direction we want to be moving in," said Dr. Leon Kelly, chief deputy medical examiner at the coroner's office.

Participants in the Race Against Suicide release balloons to remember those who have committed suicide. Many of the participants in the race had lost loved ones. Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention is a non-profit group that provides support and education for people with thoughts or actions towards suicide as well as support for the families of those people. The race was held at the El Pomar Youth Sports Complex on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. photo by Jerilee Bennett,The Gazette

An article published last month in Newsweek magazine depicted Colorado Springs as the teen suicide capital of the nation, said Janet Karnes, executive director of Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership.

"Identifying us as that is adding to the hysteria and trauma," she said.

But is it true?

It depends on how you interpret the numbers, but, in a word, yes.

Comparative national statistics are only available from 2012 to 2014, and only for counties that had 20 or more suicide deaths. During that period, El Paso County did have the highest rate in the nation.

Still, experts caution that the numbers are difficult to analyze and compare because agencies that keep track use different age ranges and variables.

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