Teen Suicides Shatter Nantucket Serenity

"You don't memorialize a suicide. It makes the person more important than he and she is," he said. "We're not hiding from it. We're trying to learn from it every day."

Students Saddened, United

Katie McInerney is the editor of the Nantucket High School student newspaper, Veritas. She was also a close friend to Will Soverino and classmate to Kathryn Wilder MacLellan, and she knew freshman Vaughn Peterson.

McInerney said she understands why the school's administration has brought in so many counselors, but she said different students cope with the deaths in distinct ways.

"I think students were really sad," McInerney told ABC News. "But they're also really confused. It's difficult for the younger students who haven't been around it, but it's difficult for the older students who have been around it as well."

She said she understands why people may want to consider the Nantucket deaths a cluster, but also challenged the stigma that goes along with that designation.

"It's hard to hear someone call Nantucket a suicide cluster like there's something wrong with us," she said. "There's nothing wrong with us. It could happen anywhere."

Madelyn Gould, a professor in child psychiatry and public health at Columbia University and expert on suicide clusters, said the island suicides may meet the term's scientific definition — particularly if authorities rule Soverino's death a suicide.

"Having three young people kill themselves within a year in a community of this size really points to it being a suicide cluster," she said.

'A Young Person's Phenomenon'

Suicide clusters occur when the number of people who kill themselves in a specific time period and geographic area surpasses the typical suicide rate and leaves a community gripped by fear.

In 2004, suicide was the third-leading cause of death in the 15-24 age group in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accounting for about 10 deaths for every 100,000 people. Three suicides out of 400 students would far exceed that rate.

In her research, Gould identified more than 50 instances of suicide clusters in the United States between 1988 and 1996. The examples ranged from three deaths to 11 deaths. She also analyzed how local media coverage of a cluster might propel additional suicides — a delicate issue but one suicide experts say can happen.

"It's definitely a young person's phenomenon," Gould said, explaining that statistically teens are more likely to respond to a suicide with a suicide. "When someone dies in a community, what we think is that it may present suicide as another way to cope, certainly a maladaptive way to cope, but another way to cope."

Teenagers are more prone to suicide clusters just as they are typically more easily influenced by social trends and fads, Gould said, adding that she fears the rise of Internet use may accentuate a trend. While previous suicides may not be the sole factor pushing a teen to take his or her own life, they may serve as a final straw.

Welsh authorities have said that there is no evidence of a "suicide pact" among those who killed themselves in Bridgend. They've criticized "sensational" reporting, saying it has glamorized the deaths, according to The Associated Press.

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