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Published on January 26th, 2011 | by Staff 12-13

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Campus copes with death of Samo student

Carlee Jensen
Managing Editor

In the week since the death of freshman Matthew Mezza, school administrators, faculty and staff have rallied together to help students struggling to cope with the incident.

“Since [Mezza's death] happened so recently, responses are not really coming out yet,” I-House adviser Jessica Garrido said. “I’m only just starting to get kids telling me that they’re unfocused.”

According to Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) officials, Mezza passed away on Friday, Jan. 14, of injuries incurred when he jumped from a window in the Sheraton-Delfina hotel. Following the incident, Mezza was taken to a hospital, where he died at 11 p.m. that night. He was laid to rest Wednesday, Jan. 19, following a service at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

SMMUSD offered counseling information and support in the Samo cafeteria the morning after Mezza’s death, and on the Tuesday following Mezza’s passing, school psychologists and guidance counselors were stationed in the library so students could seek support throughout the day. According to I-House principal Renée Semik, the names of students who came to the library on  Tuesday were given to their house advisers; many of the students were then called into their house offices for follow-up meetings, some of which resulted in referrals to school psychologists or off-campus organization which specialize in grief counseling.

Though the counselors are no longer stationed in the library, their support is still available on campus, and students who are struggling to cope with this incident are encouraged to speak with their house advisers.

“My goal is just to let my students know that I’m available,” Garrido said.

Parents seeking more information about the school’s response to  Mezza’s death, and about how they can best aid their children in coping with this incident, a parent meeting — referred to on Samo’s website as “After a Crisis: Understanding and Supporting Your Child” — is scheduled to take place tonight, at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria.

Mezza was a graduate of John Adams Middle School where he was a well-liked member of the band and an active member of student leadership. At Samo, he played baseball. He was a member of Beth Shir Shalom temple, where he was active in his youth group and volunteered with younger children in the religious school.

Among his friends, Mezza was known for his humor and storytelling abilities.

“He liked anything funny,” freshman Ben Gelfand, Mezza’s longtime friend, said. Freshman Alex Woods, another of his close friends, said Mezza would often regale him with jokes he had discovered online or in movies.

Mezza’s actions came as a shock to many who had always known him to be — in the words of Mezza’s friend, freshman Liam McBride — “very cheery and positive.” In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Neil Comess-Daniels, a rabbi at Beth Shir Shalom said, “He was certainly not the kind of person you would expect to have these feelings. Something went horribly, horribly wrong.”

Possible impetuses for Mezza’s actions will remain unknown, but school officials said that Mezza had expressed feelings of depression to his family and was receiving care at the time of his death.

David Gordon, a clinical psychologist and Samo parent who aided the school administration in their efforts to help students, said Mezza’s case is a difficult one to understand.

“I’ve been working with adolescents and suicide and depression for over 25 years, and Matthew doesn’t fit the picture,” Gordon said. “That’s part of what is so hard.”

Though Gordon said this makes it impossible to speculate about reasons for Mezza’s actions, he gave some reasons as to why teenagers may be more vulnerable to suicide than the rest of the general population.

“Adolescence is the first time kids are really developing a sense of their own identities separate from their families,” Gordon said. “That’s healthy, but … it makes teens vulnerable to a sense of being isolated from their family. Being embraced by their peers and feeling accepted becomes much more important. If they experience rejection, such as the breakup of a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend, it takes on a much more powerful meaning.”

Gordon encouraged those who are concerned about a friend to disregard the “myth” that talking about suicide will put ideas in the head of a non-suicidal person. “If you’re worried about somebody, ask them,” Gordon said. “If they have been thinking these thoughts at all, they’re going to be relieved.”

To those who knew Mezza, and are struggling with feelings of responsibility, Gordon stressed that Mezza’s case was unique, and that anticipating his actions would have been almost impossible.

“Many students feel guilty, as though they should have been able to stop it,” Gordon said. “Nobody could have. He knew and his family knew he was having problems and he was getting help, but nobody could have stopped it. This is one of those situations where everybody was doing the right thing, and it happened anyway.”

Mezza is survived by his mother, Ellie Schneir; his father, Peter Mezza; and his older brother, Florin Mezza. In lieu of flowers, his family has requested that donations be made to the Samo baseball team or to the suicide prevention hotline, Teen Line.

cjensen@thesamohi.com


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