Sunnyside High School helps students cope with the death of a student

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Photo: Video by kgun9.com

Sunnyside High School helps students cope with the death of a student

CREATED Apr 2, 2012

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- Sunnyside High School is dealing with a tragedy after a student died in a rollover accident this weekend. Counselors were on hand to help students cope with the loss of 16-year-old Gabriel Casillas.

Since the accident happened over the weekend -- some students already knew of Casillas' death,  but  it was shocking news to some classmates who arrived on campus this morning. School officials said several  teens sought help right away.  Experts say time is critical when dealing with teens who are struggling with a death.

When a student's world is shattered -- experts say it becomes a challenge to help them cope with the loss, which is why the school set up staging areas for counselors to talk to students in need. "We also pulled his schedule and sent two counselors in to follow his schedule throughout the day so we can make sure students knew what happened and answer any questions they might have -- sharing with them the facts as we know them and any information that we've gathered," said the district's counselor director, NJ Utter.

She told KGUN9 OYS that the first goal is to help students get through their day -- and week. "What we do in a crisis -- as of this morning -- we're really doing is stabilizing students and helping them get through the rest of today. And get to the point of the funeral -- sort of get back together," said Utter.

The school also reached out to the family. "The assistant principal of the Freshman Academy has already spoken to the family and the Principal of Sunnyside is making a home visit today to provide additional support," she said.

The school is also preparing for the possibility of continuing support beyond the week. Three other teens were seriously injured in the accident and are in a medically induced comas in the hospital -- which, Utter says, leaves students and the school with many unanswered questions "about what happened and about the other students involved in the accident. We still don't know if any of those students were Sunnyside students as well so it has the potential to need support at Sunnyside."

We contacted Tucson Police this afternoon. Sergeant Maria Hawke of the  Tucson Police Department said the names will not be released and investigators are focusing their energies on determining exactly what happened, who was driving, what caused them to go off the road. It is still not known if alcohol and/or drugs were a factor in the crash.