On today’s fatality at Washtenaw Intermediate Middle Academy

An eighth grader at my daughter’s school passed away at about 2:30 this afternoon, after either falling or jumping from the roof of the building.

Linette was waiting in front of the building to pick Clementine up when word came out that the school was on “lockdown” due to a “medical emergency.” She and I were on the phone together as the police cars and ambulances began pulling up to the school, trying our best to calm one another down. I heard a man come up to her car window and say, “No one is in danger.” And, shortly after, I received an automated call from Ypsilanti Community Schools letting me know that crisis counselors would be at the middle school tomorrow to talk with students. A student must have died, I thought, calculating the odds in my head that either Clementine or one of her friends might have been involved in some way. Thankfully, just as all of the pieces were coming together, Linette received a call from Clementine, who had asked to use a phone to let us know that she was alright. We were, of course, relieved… but our thoughts very quickly turned to the parents of the student who had passed.

I can’t even begin to comprehend what it must be like to lose a child. And it’s all that I can think about tonight… how terribly fragile life is, how quickly things can change for a family, and how I should make more of an effort to be present for my son and daughter.

As you can imagine, we’ve been talking quite a bit this evening about life and death, and the young man who passed today. Clementine knew him in passing. She’d apparently just recently talked with him about what to name the new turtles that had shown up in the classroom where they both had after school clubs. They both disliked the name “Frederick the Turtle,” she said. Clementine and her fellow students have been texting non-stop this evening, sharing observations and exchanging memories of the young man, who was just about ready to graduate from middle school. I know it’s a small silver lining, but it was beautiful to see this community of smart, caring kids and their teachers come together, supporting one another, and asking what they could do to help. Clementine told me that someone in her class had already started making a memorial video about him, and she pointed me toward a number of comments left of MLive by people who knew him… Here’s one of those comments, which Clementine said was left by one of their student teachers. “This young person was one of the kindest and respectful students I have ever met,” the man said. “Probably the top of his class, headed in an ivy league direction. Well liked by everyone that met him and a fun loving person. My heart goes out to his family and friends.”

Right now, a lot of people are speculating as to why he was on the roof, whether or not he may have chosen to end his own life, and, if that’s the case, what warning signs there may have been. I suspect that, in the days and weeks to come, we’ll have a better sense of what happened and why. And, when we know the facts, I’m sure there will be ample opportunity to discuss what we can learn from his passing. For now, though, I think it’s probably enough just to mourn the passing of this young man who will never have an opportunity to reach his full potential in this world.

I know it’s a cliche, but hug your kids tonight, and enjoy your time with them.

update: The following message from YCS Superintendent Benjamin Edmondson was just sent out to all families in the district.

Dear YCS family,

This afternoon a student died following a tragic incident at Washtenaw International Middle School (WIMA). This was of a non-violent nature. We have been in contact with the family and are cooperating fully with Ypsilanti Police Department during their investigation. We want to respect the privacy of the family and ask that you do the same as we do our best to support students, staff and families.

School will resume tomorrow so that we can have supports in place. We have arranged mental health counselors available to talk with students and staff about normal responses to grief. We will not hesitate to employ additional resources as needed from the WISD, City and Sheriff’s office as they have already reached out to us.

There are no words to properly convey the sorrow we feel. We send our deepest condolences to the family.

Superintendent Benjamin Edmondson

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10 Comments

  1. Lisa Dengiz
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Heartbreaking. So glad to hear that students are rallying to honor him. Ele’s Place might be of help to students and families. Hugs.

  2. Kevin Sharp
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    How utterly devastating. The responses by you and others who’ve addressed this are heartening. Good to know amid the tragedy there’s such gentleness and compassion.

  3. Steven Krause
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I agree with what everyone else has said– it’s a tragedy, my sympathies to family and friends– and I also appreciate the account. The story I heard on the NBC/Detroit news last night was wildly inaccurate.

  4. Dan Blakeney
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    How awful for this kid and his family, the school, and our community. So much of life is merely surviving mishaps, making it past the rough patches, and sheer good fortune. This is so so sad.

  5. Lynne
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    It really is terrible. Can you imagine that until very recently it was normal to have a child die? My heart goes out to his family.

  6. Lisa Gottlieb
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Mark, for putting some kind and thoughtful words to what is nearly unspeakably painful to imagine.
    I appreciate your blog so much.

  7. E. Daniel Ayres
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Lynn used to teach over there. We got pretty emotional about the situation and wanted to know if there has been another more authoritative treatment. We had a kid about that age living in the house behind us years ago. He got in a fight at school and died in his sleep a couple of days later with no apparent symptoms of a problem until it was way too late for anyone to do anything about it, so the situation, no matter what it turns out to have been will be devastating to the friends and family. That roof isn’t very high but I suspect that an intentional dive, or a fall with help from friends could easily be fatal. If a coroner’s report comes out, I’d be curious to know what it says.

  8. blueeyedpupil
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Lovely post Mark. So happy the students are pulling together. All condolences to his family

  9. James Williams
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    This mlive article mentions that he liked to do parkour, so he might have just suffered an accident while attempting a jump:

    http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2016/06/ypsilanti_community_mourns_dea.html

  10. Kat
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Xavier Small’s Memorial Service
    Friday, June 10th @ 4pm – 6pm
    Eastern Michigan University
    Student Center Ball Room
    900 Oakwood Street
    Ypsilanti MI 48197

One Trackback

  1. […] one another how to read. Then, just this past Friday, at the memorial service for Xavier Small, the eighth grader who recently fell to his death from the roof of Clementine’s school, I had the opportunity to sit and listen as speaker after speaker took the stage and noted what a […]

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