Shauntiana Autrice Stafford, a 17-year-old student at Flagler Palm Coast High School, took her life Monday evening at her home at Madison Green Apartments, according to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.
FPC faculty got to work this morning to an email from Bob Wallace, the principal, informing them of the student’s death. The district’s crisis-response team was dispatched to the school, with counselors and psychologists ready to speak with students, faculty or parents about the loss. The team will remain at the school as needed, a school official said. Wallace was preparing to send a message to parents by phone and email later in the day, asking them to be aware of signs of grief in their children and to be in contact with the school if necessary.
Stafford’s is the third Flagler County teen’s death by suicide in the past 18 months, going back to the death of 17-year-old Timothy Daniel of Matanzas High School in late July 2017 and 18-year-old Nick Urban who had just graduated from Matanzas, last September.
Stafford’s mother, who had just gotten home, called 911 at 9:01 p.m. Monday saying her daughter was trying to hang herself. Her daughter was in her bedroom closet, had no pulse and had an electrical cord wrapped around her neck. Her mother was administering CPR when deputies, followed by paramedics, arrived.
Her mother told deputies she’d last checked on Stafford around 7:15 p.m. when she called from work and asked her son to look in on her. Her son told her Stafford was on the phone with her grandmother, and he went back to watching television. He did not hear anything unusual in the room. Her mother explained to authorities that her daughter had been “going through depression over the past few years over being bullied at school,” according to the report, and that she was upset that her mother was possibly transferring her to Manatzas High School. She did not want to lose her friends at FPC.
A school district official said there are “a lot of underlying issues that aren’t going to come out in a police report,” including long-standing mental health issues: Stafford had been seeing counselors at school and out of school.
Stafford’s mother also noted that Stafford had been Baker Acted on Jan. 9 and held at a psychiatric health facility until Saturday. The afternoon of Jan. 9, 911 notes reflect, Stafford had threatened to cut herself with a blade and said she had access to blades and knives.
Paramedics last night took Stafford to AdventHealth hospital in Palm Coast, where she was pronounced dead by emergency room personnel. The investigative services division took over the scene at the Madison Green apartment, going through the required routines in such cases.
Stafford had once been featured in national news reports: in 2013, Reuters, the worldwide news service, circulated a picture of Stafford, her brother and her mother from Stanford, where her mother had gone with her children to await the results of the George Zimmerman trial in the case of the killing of Trayvon Martin. Stafford’s picture with her family ran in many newspapers, among them the New York Post and the New York Daily News. Stafford’s Facebook page is replete with pictures of her smiling, in jovial, colorful poses, and with bright memes, among them a rainbow-colored “All Lives Matter.”
School Board member Colleen Conklin, who was aware of a student’s death but not yet aware of the details nor the student’s identity, was overcome with emotion at first when talking about Stafford. Conklin for the past several years has been at the forefront of discussions and an organized response to the county’s suicides, youth suicide especially. One of those responses has been the creation of Flagler Lifeline, a component of Flagler Cares, a coalition of health organizations and concerns designed to address health and mental health issues. Flagler Lifeline was created last year to address suicide specifically, in a county that, in 2017, proportionately led the state in suicides. Conklin was at two Flagler Lifelines meetings and community presentations last week, part of the ongoing outreach effort to bring more awareness to the issue.
The school district has been working on its own mental health infrastructure, adding three mental health counselors and a school psychologist district-wide, with an opening for another psychologist.
“We have probably one of the strongest infrastructures in place when it comes to mental health school counselors, not your guidance counselors, but mental health counselors and school psychologists, in place than most other school districts,” Conklin said. The district also added two case managers for students considered most at risk. One of the case managers is a district employee. The other is a Halifax Behavioral Health employee who works in the district. The case managers help coordinate and connect families to services.
“We’ve worked exceptionally hard to coordinate a safety net for students and families in Flagler, connecting outside resources and entities,” Conklin said. “It’s critically important that the message get out there that we want parents and families to take advantages of the services that are available to them.”
“You try to put out all the support out there,” said the school official who’d spoken of Stafford (not Conklin), “and this happens. It’s tough.”
Flagler Lifeline released a public service video featuring local officials and others holding up a series of signs with hand-written points about suicide. It begins with Superintendent Jim Tager holding up a sign that reads: “There is help. People will listen. Speak up & speak out!” Further on, School Board member Andy Dance holds up another sign that states: “Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in kids 10-14 and the 2nd leading cause of death among people age 15-21.”
“Add your voice as we help start the conversation,” the video, which you can see in full below, concludes.
The idea, Conklin said, is “to change the conversation and battle some of the stigma around mental wellness, trying to have people view mental wellness the same way they would high blood pressure or other health issue, trying to get help for that.”
As Conklin was being interviewed late this morning, deputies and paramedics were responding to a house on Palm Coast’s Pheasant Drive where an older man had been threatening suicide–and was not opening his door. Authorities made their way in and took control of the situation: the man did not follow up on his threats, and was evaluated.
The following resources are available for individuals in crisis:
In Flagler: The Crisis Triage and Treatment Unit (CTTU) is a crisis assessment and referral service for Flagler County residents experiencing behavioral health crisis. It is located at 301 Justice Lane in the Brown & Brown Outpatient building at the Vince Carter Sanctuary in Bunnell. This program is limited to individuals escorted to the program by law enforcement between the hours of noon and midnight daily. Law enforcement is able to transport individuals to SMA to assess and determine the appropriate clinical disposition. When required and appropriate, SMA then transports the individual to a receiving facility in Volusia County.
In Daytona Beach: Stewart-Marchman Act Corporation Crisis Center
1220 Willis Avenue
Daytona Beach, FL 32114
Crisis Line: (800) 539 – 4228
Available 24 hours.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800/273-8255 (TALK).