School: Teen who shot self had 'significant personal challenges'
The Bennion Junior High teen who fatally shot himself in front of other students Thursday was "facing significant personal challenges on multiple fronts," according to Granite School District officials.
Police and the school district identified the 14-year-old boy as David Q. Phan.
District spokesman Ben Horsley on Friday said he could not provide specific information related to David's problems and possible mental health issues, but noted that the school and district had not received any recent reports the boy was being bullied by other students. Some students who were at the school Thursday alleged he had been bullied, and similar allegations were circulating on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
"There appears to be ongoing rumors throughout social media and reported in the news media that the student was being bullied. This is of particular grave concern to the school and district," Horsley said in a statement. "There is an indication that the student reported a bullying concern several years ago. Consequently, school administration and counselors have stayed in close contact with him since that time.
"Counselors have further remained in close regular contact with [him] because of other issues in his personal life. Despite specific personal inquiries, David never reported any further bullying concerns and on the contrary, reported that things were going well," the statement said.
In an interview Friday, Horsley no student has come forward with information about recent bullying, even after a school announcement asked for such information.
"Social media chatter was that he was bullied because he was gay," Horsley said. "It would be inappropriate for me to speculate whether he was gay or not because we have no formal reports of bullying."
Recently, David had been speaking with a counselor about some personal problems, Horsley said, but nothing that involved the school or his teachers.
"Counselors have further remained in close regular contact with [the boy] because of other issues in his personal life. Despite specific personal inquiries, [the boy] never reported any further bullying concerns and, on the contrary, reported that things were going well," Horsley said.
David shot himself on Thursday shortly after 3 p.m. He left school at about 1:30 p.m. with his mother but returned to the bridge over 6200 South at 2700 West that links to the school's campus just as classes were getting out, Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said. There, he met up with some other students and produced a handgun just before shooting himself.
Police determined that the gun came from a locked safe in the boy's home. He knew where the gun was and somehow gained access to it, Hoyal said in a statement issued Friday.
District officials would not divulge why the boy went home in the middle of the day.
Horsley said administrators met Friday to discuss how to deal at school with grieving students as well as how to help students who may have witnessed the shooting. A grief counselor was assigned to attend all classes that were part of the boy's day, and other counselors were available to help students who weren't directly in a class with the victim, Horsley said.
The Salt Lake Tribune does not normally report on suicides but makes an exception when the death occurs in a very public manner.
Police and the school district are continuing to investigate the incident.
"While the administration and police still have outstanding questions with respect to what led this student to take this action, what is clear at this point in time is that [the student] was facing significant personal challenges on multiple fronts. Without detailing private information that is available to us, at this point in time, it would not be appropriate to make any formal conclusions," Horsley said.
He noted that the district considers student safety extremely important. The weapon used in the shooting was obtained outside of the school campus, Horsley emphasized. Faculty and students are always encouraged to report unsafe behavior, he said.
"Our greatest security system within our schools is the eyes and ears of our students and they have a moral imperative to report unsafe behavior to a trusted adult, teacher or administrator," he said.
District officials reiterated to students that they can anonymously report bullying or other suspicious activity via a district safety hotline at 801-481-7199 or via text at 801-664-2929.
Suicide in Utah
Utah had the eighth-highest adult suicide rate for ages 20 to 64, according to a 2007 national count from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most recent available.
Twenty-six percent of Utah high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless, according to 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System surveys; 15.4 percent said they had "seriously considered" suicide.
People in need of help and their friends and families can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)