Courts & Crime

String of youth suicides alarms Western Alaska villages

Western Alaska is home to some of the highest suicide rates in the state, but the pace of more than one death per week has some village leaders on alert.

As many as nine young people from Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta villages have killed themselves over the past two months, Alaska State Troopers say.

"There's something different going on this year. Here in Scammon Bay we've had three suicides. Maybe two or three attempts," said Brandon Aguchak, executive director for the tribal council.

The council is offering a free drum of gasoline — fuel is $5.89 a gallon at the local gas station — as a door prize this afternoon at a meeting inviting people to talk about the mix of drugs, alcohol and suicide in a village one mile from the Bering Sea.

Beginning when a 17-year-old was found hanging in front of the town school last July, the Yup'ik community of just 530 people has lost four young men in a year. Two killed themselves in June.

All but one of the dead since late May have been 17- to 22-year-old men; the ninth was a 15-year-old girl. Alcohol played a part in some but not all of the deaths, according to trooper reports.

"Parents need to know what they can say to their children, how they can raise them to avoid issues like that so kids always learn how to value life ... How valuable life is and how heartbreaking it is to have parents go through what some kids might do," said Harley Sundown, assistant principal at the Scammon Bay school.

His 20-year-old son killed himself June 9.

"He wasn't depressed at all. It's just something that he put in his mind when he was drinking one night in Bethel," Sundown said. "It's just something he did at the spur of the moment, and that's one of the things we do in our culture: We always say you don't do something on the first impulse."

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