Students grieve as teens who died in park are identifiedby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio,
Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Students at a junior high in the east metro area on Wednesday were mourning the deaths of two ninth graders who were found dead in a park near the St. Croix River.
School officials said counselors were made available and a crisis team was in place at Oak-Land Junior High in Lake Elmo.
"We informed students of the deaths this morning and allowed them to meet with counselors if they wished, and to have time to talk, express their feelings and support each other," officials with the Stillwater school district said in a written statement.
Media reports of the incident said suicide was involved. Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton said authorities were not looking for suspects, but he declined to characterize either of the deaths as suicide or a possible murder-suicide.
"I will not stamp it. Again, we have to follow all the information, especially the information that we have to work with the medical examiner's office," Hutton said Wednesday.
Hutton also said he thought there was a relationship between the two, although he also declined to characterize that.
In its statement, the school district also did not confirm the nature of the teens' deaths.
Washington County authorities identified the teens as Lisa Marie Grijalva, 15, of Oak Park Heights, and Jacob Zachary Campbell, 14, of Lakeland.
The sheriff's office received a call at about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday from the person who found the teens' bodies in the park.
Hutton said the teens had gunshot wounds, and that a long-barreled weapon was found near one of the teen's bodies. Hutton said it didn't appear that any evidence was taken from the scene.
Investigators were interviewing family and friends of the pair. Hutton said police were trying to trace text messages, Internet postings and any other information that might shed light on the circumstances of the deaths.
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was helping with the investigation, and the Ramsey County Medical Examiner was trying to determine the manner and cause of death, Hutton said.
"This information will not be available for immediate release as the investigation is ongoing," Hutton said in a news release.
School officials offered their sympathy to the students' families, along with the students and staff who knew them. Counselors and school psychologists were expected to be available in the coming days to provide additional support.
In a letter sent to Oak-Land Junior High parents, Principal Derek Berg listed several resources available to students.
"Be aware that your child may experience strong feelings in response to this news and may require additional support," he wrote.
The deaths are the latest in what has been a string of high-profile deaths of young people around the state, a number at their own hands.
Seven teenagers in the Anoka-Hennepin school district have killed themselves in the last year.
The suicide of a New Jersey college student in September has also highlighted the role of cyber-bullying in the lives of young people who commit suicide.
Suicides among young people average about 40 per year in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The number varies widely, ranging as low as 30 and as high as 55 in the last five years. The total number of suicides so far in 2010 isn't yet available, the health department said.
Mental health experts say some Minnesota schools -- but not all -- are proactive about preventing those suicides.
Dan Reidenberg, executive director of a Minneapolis-based advocacy group called Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), said studies show that a frank discussion about mental health issues and suicides can help kids recognize the risk for themselves and their friends.
But Reidenberg said more schools need to make that information available to students before a school's first suicide happens.
"Often what we find is that a school will only offer some kind of class after a suicide has occurred, unfortunately," he said. "And while that is good and it may help students in the future, we've also already lost someone at that point."
- All Things Considered, 10/13/2010, 4:44 p.m.
Elizabeth Dunbar is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.