‘Contagion' May Have Played a Role to Fordham Prep Student's Suicide: Psychiatrist

A New York City prep school student who jumped in front of an oncoming Metro-North train Tuesday evening may have killed himself in part because a fellow student committed suicide in a similar manner, a child psychiatrist tells NBC 4 New York.

Dr. Moira Rynn, the head of Child Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, said that the Fordham Preparatory School who was hit and killed by a Metro-North train near the the Botanical Gardens Monday evening may have been a case of "suicide contagion" spurred by another student who killed himself in a similar manner at the Philipse Manor stop in Westchester County two weeks prior. 

Suicide contagion is a known phenomenon where people considering ending their life are influenced by other people taking their own lives. There is evidence that suggests such suicides may happen in "clusters" or "outbreaks" amid media coverage.

Rynn encouraged family members to talk to their children if they're worried they'd ever thought about committing suicide. 

"Sometimes parents are afraid to ask," she said. "They almost feel like if they ask those hard questions, that maybe it will cause something to happen or make something get worse. And we really know that it doesn't."

Parents of students at the school, meanwhile, say that they are shocked and saddened by the deaths. One, Claudio Cotza, told NBC 4 New York his son knew the students who died and are having trouble comprehending why they ended their lives.

"He knew the first kid very well," he said. "He spoke to him that morning.... he's had a tough time."

Cotza added that he's wondering what could have caused two students to take similar actions in such a short span.

"For two kids in two weeks, something's not right," he said. "Maybe there's too much pressure on their activities... I don't know."

Fordham Prep said that grief counselors are meeting with students, faculty, staff and parents. The school is also hosting a parent meeting to address concerns about the deaths.

"The sudden and tragic death of a member of our sophomore class last evening has deeply shocked and saddened the entire Fordham Prep community. We are in close contact with the young man’s family and have assured them that our prayers, sympathy and support are with them in their time of need," the school said. 

The first teen jumped in front of the train in Westchester on Jan. 18. No one else was on the platform at the time.

Then, on Tuesday, a second teen leaped in front of a train at the Botanical Gardens stop. Metro-North officials were forced to shut down the Harlem and New Haven lines in the aftermath, causing a ripple effect on the commuter rail throughout the evening. 

Crowds gathered in Grand Central Terminal afterward as they waited for delayed trains. Service resumed later in the evening.

The MTA said that extra officers on patrols at Metro-North stations Tuesday evening. 

Parents or anyone else concerned a child may commit suicide should call 911 or go to the nearest hospital or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-237-8255 to be connected with a trained counselor. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

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