Montville High tries to cope with suicide of 10th-grader

Montville - Grief counselors were on hand Monday at the high school after one of its 10th-grade students committed suicide Friday.

The school's new principal, Chad Ellis, said the student, Joseph Mendes, was new to the district.

A memorial page created for Mendes on Facebook attributes Mendes' death to bullying, but Ellis said Mendes' family had only recently notified the school last week that there were bullying issues.

"What we are hearing right now from police is that there were a lot of things going on at home and that bullying was secondary," said Ellis.

Montville Resident State Trooper Michael Collins said police are investigating the Facebook rumors but have yet to uncover any evidence that attributes the young man's death to bullying.

"We are looking at every avenue and investigating everything we are hearing," said Collins. "Right now, it's just rumors."

Mendes lived with his grandparents, Paul and Betty Allard. They could not be reached to comment Monday.

Ellis said school officials were notified of the suicide late Friday and a crisis intervention team was immediately summoned to plan for the start of school Monday.

"The mood is very somber at the school," said Ellis. "Students are having good conversations with each other."

Ellis said students are wearing blue and orange, Mendes' favorite colors, in his memory. He said staff and faculty are also wearing blue and orange ribbons.

Ellis said all counselors and psychologists were on call and the school set up a safe area for students to talk in the counseling office.

The school board has a bullying policy for its schools, Ellis said. All bullying complaints are investigated, he said, adding that if allegations are founded, the bully is suspended and the victim is offered counseling. The bully also meets with a counselor to get at the root of what is triggering the aggressive behavior.

Ellis, who started his job at the high school on Jan. 3, said that bullying does happen but it is not a prevalent issue.

"It's a horrible event," said Ellis. "We are very sad about this. Our hearts go out to the family. We hope for the best for them."

Superintendent of Schools Pamela W. Aubin notified the larger Montville school community about Mendes' death through a letter Sunday on the district's website.

"We all want to be able to know the reasons why an event such as this has occurred, but speculation can cause great harm to innocent individuals," the letter said. "The use of social networking sites such as Facebook for discussion and speculation can be hurtful to students and disrespectful to Joseph's family. Please try to redirect your child to ways to honor Joseph's memory and cope with their loss."

i.larraneta@theday.com

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