19-year-old takes his life

Community wrestles with how to prevent more suicides
By: Patty McAlpin, Reporter
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An account has been set up at Wells Fargo in Lincoln to help the family of Alexis Herrera. The account number is 9737664327 under the name of Jesus Herrera-Cobos. The telephone number for Wells Fargo is 434-5860.


Counselors and psychologists are on four school campuses this week to help students cope with the death of a 19-year-old man on Jan. 19.

Lincoln Interim Police Chief Paul Shelgren confirmed that police responded to a suicide Jan. 19. They found Alexis Herrera, 19, of Lincoln, in an area of Auburn Creek off 1st Street, according to Shelgren.

“This is a tragic event, just tragic,” Shelgren said.

Lincoln Police Officer Steve Krueger, who was the school resource officer at Lincoln High School, said he met Herrera a few years ago when he was having problems and knew his family well.

“But he turned his life around,” Krueger said. “He graduated from high school. He was working and going to school. He was involved in Juan and Karen Hernandez’s ReDirect program

community-service projects. I haven’t seen him since last year when I was at Phoenix High School.”

Herrera was a student at Lincoln High School and Phoenix High School. He graduated last year.

Krueger remembered Herrera’s passion for indoor and outdoor soccer.

“He loved soccer,” Krueger said.

Herrera was on the roster of the 2011-2012 Lincoln High School team.

Lincoln Florist owner Jennifer Ibarra said the soccer field is where her son, Steven, met Herrera.

“My son went to school with him,” Ibarra said. “Steven met Alexis while he was playing soccer his freshman year and they remained friends.”

Ibarra has offered to provide the flowers for Herrera’s funeral.

“When I asked my son about doing that, Steven told me, ‘Mom. Do that. Let’s help out any way we can.’”

Ibarra said Herrera was very nice, well-liked and had a sensitive side her son could relate to.

“We are deeply saddened,” Ibarra said. “Kids think problems are so big they choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It just doesn’t make sense when someone so young takes his own life. I had a brother-in-law who committed suicide. Sometimes, people do not find peace and his family may not unless they believe in the Lord and know Alexis is in a better place.”

Ibarra said the school district (Western Placer Unified School District) is trying to talk more about suicides.

“Unfortunately, there have been a lot of suicides in the past two years,” Ibarra said. “The school district is doing a good job with counseling but we need more preventative programs to help young people, especially young men.”

The Waterlyn, Whalen and Aguilar families from Lincoln each lost a young man to suicide during summer 2011.

“Four is too many,” said Krueger, who said he spoke with school board President Kris Wyatt Tuesday regarding the tragedy and what the community can do to address general issues and collaborate.

Krueger said he told Wyatt he would like to be involved in an outreach group.

Wyatt spent her day on the Lincoln High School campus Tuesday.

“I came here to help out and let everyone know I support them through what they are going through,” said Wyatt, a retired teacher and counselor.

Wyatt was joined on campus by school psychologists and counselors from the district and the Lighthouse Family Resource Center, who were also present at Phoenix High School, Twelve Bridges Middle School and Glen Edwards Middle School to assist students and Herrera’s siblings.

Lincoln High School Principal Jay Berns said the entire Zebra community is “saddened by this loss.”

Counselors will be on the school campuses all week for any student who needs help.

If parents know their son or daughter is grieving, Berns said, “please send them to the office and we will get them the support they need.”

Berns said the district continues to take steps to identify students in need, provide staff with training to assess if a student is at risk of suicide and direct families to community resources.

Berns said last year the district hosted a suicide-awareness night for families.

High school staff members this fall attended a training, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, paid for by Lincoln Rotary.

School psychologist Vincent Hurtado said risk factors include mental-health issues such as depression or anxiety, poor grades, problems at home such as divorce, loss of a parent’s job or loss of the family’s home, financial stress and loss of friendships/relationships.

“There is usually a combination of factors,” Hurtado said. “We can never determine which one pushed a person over the top.”

Berns said school officials can speculate as to what happened in this case but “when people are hurting, it is hard to figure out the truth and if there is any validity. The bottom line is a young man took his life and his family, students and the community are hurting.”

Wyatt said she “is at a loss for words.” She “doesn’t understand why these young men died.” Wyatt said counselors have to be honest with youth when they don’t have answers and just listen.

The biggest question Hurtado has is, “Where do we go from here?”

Hurtado said staff training has prevented completed suicides at Lincoln High School this year and the training “is effective for the student population.”

“But after they leave high school, what can we do as a community,” Hurtado said. “They are not under our umbrella anymore. The community needs to come together and answer how we come together to help students post graduation.”