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Mother Blames School Official for Son's Suicide

April 15, 2006|Lance Pugmire and Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writers

A distraught Ontario mother on Friday called for the temporary removal of a vice principal whom she blames for her 14-year-old son's suicide, which she said occurred after he was disciplined for missing class to take part in an immigration rights march on March 26.

Louise Corales said her son, Anthony Soltero, called her shortly before shooting himself to death March 30, saying he was suspended from school and had been told by the vice principal that he was going to jail for three years for skipping school.

Sharon P. McGehee, superintendent of the Ontario-Montclair School District, said there was "no corroborating evidence that the vice principal threatened Soltero with prison." The school district has begun an investigation of the incident.

McGehee said the vice principal told the students who skipped class that they would lose a privilege at the end of the year -- either a field trip or the school dance.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 18, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Teenager's suicide: An article in Saturday's California section about an Ontario teenager who committed suicide stated that family members said the 14-year-old had been disciplined by a school vice principal after participating in a March 26 immigration protest. The protest was March 27.

Fellow students and immigration activists will hold a march and rally in downtown Los Angeles this morning to honor the memory of Anthony.

Before a brief news conference with her attorneys Friday morning, Anthony's mother submitted a letter to McGehee asking her to reassign the vice principal at De Anza Middle School, Gene Bennett, so he would not have contact with students while the district's investigation was underway. Attempts to seek comment from Bennett were unsuccessful.

"The vice principal called Anthony into his office and, in front of other students, told Anthony that he would not be allowed to attend graduation functions, that his parents would be fined, and [he] threatened that Anthony would go to jail for three years," his mother said in the letter. "This caused Anthony to be so upset, distraught and overwhelmed that he took his own life."

Ontario police Wednesday night released the boy's suicide note to his family. Samuel Paz, the mother's attorney, said it corroborated the allegations against the vice principal. Paz and the boy's mother have declined to release the note.

"Ninety-nine percent of it is about his family, and how he's so sad to be in this situation," Paz said of the suicide note. "He says something extremely negative about the vice principal, filled with expletives ... the only negative thing about anyone in the note."

"It certainly corroborates what the kids were saying, that this [threat of jail] was the source of his suicide," he said. "Any logical person could make that same conclusion."

Ontario Det. Al Parra, the lead investigator into the death, declined to discuss details of the note.

Anthony was a good student who had been in trouble only once, about 18 months ago, when he brought a pocketknife to school and was placed on academic probation, his mother's attorneys and police said.

Jeffrey F. Cohen, one of her attorneys, said Anthony did participate in a student march for immigrant rights and that two classmates "will provide that testimony in court."

"Anthony was passionate about immigration issues," Cohen said.

Anthony did not tell his mother he was going to the protest and when she found out he was disciplined for skipping school, she was upset and told him she was coming home to talk about it, according to the attorneys. When she got home, she found him dying from a single gunshot wound to the head and tried to administer CPR, they said.

Anthony had shot himself with his stepfather's .22-caliber rifle, police said.

Cpl. Jeff Higbee of the Ontario Police Department said his department investigated why there was an unsecured firearm in the house. Detectives have submitted their report to the San Bernardino County district attorney.

Experts said teen suicides are usually not the result of a single incident, but a final act in a complicated struggle. Many suicide victims had fought mental disorders, depression or problems with alcohol or drugs, said Dr. David Feinberg, a child psychiatrist and medical director of the Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA.

"Typically when a teenager kills himself, it's because they kind of can't escape from a situation," Feinberg said, emphasizing that he was commenting generally, not on this specific case.

A teenager's suicide is often "a reaction to a particular stressor.... It's usually kind of the straw that broke the camel's back."

Parents of suicidal teens often struggle to comprehend their child's death, which can be catastrophic, and must face the stigma that suicide carries, Feinberg said.

"You're looked at like you did something wrong or failed," Feinberg said. "The aftermath can be extremely difficult. It's not unusual for families to try and find external factors to try to explain" what happened.

*

Times staff writers Jason Felch and Susannah Rosenblatt contributed to this report.

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