Friday, January 22, 2010

The Death of Montana Lance

Montana Lance died yesterday.  He apparently hung himself in the nurse's bathroom of his school in The Colony, Texas.  A staff member found him and emergency personnel responded, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital.  His school was Stewart's Creek Elementary School.  Montana Lance was 9 years old.

We all have somewhere in our minds, whether the front or the back, the knowledge that people kill themselves.  We probably try not to think about anyone we know completing suicide, and certainly not our offspring.  But even though we know that this is something that can happen, I doubt that any of us, when we imagine a person who would even attempt suicide, imagine a 9 year-old child.  The result is that this story seems at one and the same time truly horrific and truly surreal.

That surreal feeling is reflected in the comments readers have been leaving on news stories about this tragedy.  A blog post from the Dallas Morning News website has numerous comments from people who flatly refuse to believe that this was a suicide.  They say that no problem this child could possibly experience at this young age could lead him to kill himself.  Implicitly, they are saying what we all want to be true, which is that we don't want the world to be such that a child kills himself.

The fact is, while suicide in pre-teen children is not nearly as common as in older children, it does happen.  The rate of suicide among children under 12 is 0.8 per 100,000, compared to a rate of 7.7 per 100,000 for children aged 15-19.  The reported rate of suicide for children under 12 has doubled since 1979.  However, it is not clear how much of this represents an actual increase and how much represents people's willingness to acknowledge that a death is a suicide and to report it as such.
At 9, children have a limited understanding of death.  Many have some grasp of the idea that it is final and irreversable, but others do not.  They also do not fully grasp the consequences of their actions and often have difficulty thinking a difficult situation all the way through.  What this means is that if a young child contemplates suicide and, as some do, "rehearses" it, he may end up dying when that was not actually his intent.

We all want to believe that the world is kind to children.  We do not know, and probably never will know, enough about Montana Lance to know in what way the world was cruel to him.  It seems likely, though, that there is a backstory to this news -- there usually is.  And without knowing that backstory, it really isn't responsible to say that he cannot have completed suicide.  It seems, from all evidence, that he did.

As an educator, I have heard children as young as 7 threaten to kill themselves.  Blessedly none of them has made a serious attempt, and we've always been able to get appropriate help for them.  The staff at Stewart's Creek was not so lucky, and I feel for the person who discovered Montana in that bathroom.  That is a sight they will never forget and will take a long time getting over.


Jaynie Martin said...

This is an example of what children suffer ... just from other children it really saddens me and for all those who cant believe check out this link re 2 boys who beat up and film 2 other boys leaving them for dead the only reason they didnt continue the beating was because their arms ached also the Jamie Bulger story ... :(

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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