Suicide stuns CHS community, prompts outpouring of emotion

On Monday morning during the 8 o’clock hour, CHS students encircled a tree covered with masses of pink blossoms and surrounded by notes, bouquets of flowers, yellow and blue balloons and candles.

They had come to grieve their classmate, freshman Esmé Page, who committed suicide on Friday night. It was a hushed gathering, marked by tears and comforting embraces. CHS counselors walked over and spoke to the teens, some 17 in all, letting them know they were available for anyone who needed to talk.

Local therapist and clinical social worker Kirby Palmer provides support to CUSD with regards to mental health issues and organizes the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention assembly that is held at the high school every other year. He was visible on campus, as were Principal Brett O’Connor and Assistant Principal June Hilton, letting students know they have the administration’s support during this difficult time.

Although it happened over the weekend, word of Esmé’s death spread quickly among the student body, largely through social media. A sophomore walking to the school noted that, although he didn’t know her well, he had found out about her suicide through Instagram.

The kids created the tree memorial over the weekend, and it continued to grow on Monday, with one girl bringing a bouquet of yellow flowers and another setting up a colorful box with a slot and a sign that reads “Notes for my family.”

Esmé, who attended Condit and El Roble schools, had only been on campus less than a year but had already made a big impression. She was in musical theater and on the cross country team and adored photography and horseback riding. In acknowledgement of the first passion, someone placed a sunflower through the handles of the door in the school’s Don F. Fruechte Center for the Performing Arts. In honor of the latter passion, someone had placed a stuffed animal of a horse at the memorial.

In recent months, Esmé had been exploring her sense of self and had subscribed to numerous YouTube videos on how to come out to family about having an alternative gender or sexual identity. According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program website, more than 50 percent of transgender youth will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday.

In the last couple of days, students have begun tweeting about Esmé, who was on the track team and was a gifted photographer, using the hashtag #RipEsme. One of the tributes include a video of her playing ukulele and singing Cold Play’s “Viva La Vida.”

Mr. O’Connor sent out an email on Sunday addressed to CHS students, parents, guardians and caregivers notifying them that Esmé had died and sharing some of his thoughts on a student who “always had a smile on her face.” He also asked that people keep the teen and her family in their thoughts and prayers.

“I was blessed to be able to meet with Esmé’s family this afternoon,” Mr. O’Connor wrote. “They asked me to let everyone know that Esmé and her family were in a long process of helping her figure out exactly who she was and tried desperately to make sure that she had the resources, the support and coping mechanisms to get through a difficult time. They loved her and accepted her on this journey.”

Attached to his message was a .pdf of Parent Guidelines for Crisis Response. The school is working to address the confusion and grief caused by Esmé’s death and to stave off any copycat suicides, something that has proven to be an issue on some campuses. In the meantime, students are showing their love for their lost classmate on Twitter, Instagram, Vine and all the other places young people gather for virtual communion.

In the midst of the school day, one girl tweeted this message, along with a heart emoticon, “I wish I could hug and hold everyone who has been affected by this tragic loss. Stay Strong CHS. Sending my love and prayers to all. #RipEsme.”

A childhood friend, Kaylee-Anna Jayaweera, made a video tribute to Esmé, which can be found and shared at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkyeNW0JzBo&feature=youtu.be.

A Celebration of Life service for Esmé Page will take place on Thursday, April 2 at 4 p.m. in the CHS West Gym. This celebration is open to all members of the CHS family and community.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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