4th suicide in 3 weeks reported in Alaska Native village

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A fourth young adult has killed himself in less than three weeks in a remote Alaska Native village, the latest in a tragic cycle in which each of the previous three deaths influenced the subsequent one, authorities said.

A 21-year-old man was found dead Saturday at his parent’s home in Hooper Bay, a village 530 miles west of Anchorage in a region with disproportionately high suicide rates, Alaska State Troopers said. The death follows three others that began Sept. 24 with the suicide of a 26-year-old man.

A 24-year-old man despondent over his friend’s death killed himself Oct. 2, followed two days later by the suicide of a 20-year-old woman reportedly distraught over the 24-year-old’s death.

It was not immediately clear if the latest suicide was influenced by the others. Several local residents, including the village police chief and the mayor, declined to comment Monday.

Emma Smith, a new wellness coordinator hired by Sea Lion Corp., the village Native corporation, would only say that she cannot know the personal impact on each individual in the community. Asked if the 21-year-old was close to the others who took their lives, Smith said no one is a stranger to each other in the village.

“Everybody in this village knows everybody,” she said.

Mental health experts from tribal health organizations have traveled to the Yup’ik Eskimo community of nearly 1,200. An Alaska Native suicide response and prevention team from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. is heading to Hooper Bay this week for a community debriefing.

Christopher Byrnes, Yukon-Kuskokwim’s emergency services director, said the team’s size has been scaled down from plans developed last week at the request of village residents.

“The tribe has actually requested that we don’t have a big response team right now,” he said. “They want to focus on grieving and funerals.”

Alaska as a whole is consistently among U.S. states with the highest overall suicide rates, ranking second in 2013, according to the latest national statistics available. It led the nation in 2010.

In figures provided by the state, suicides among Alaska Natives between the ages of 20 and 29 occurred at nearly triple the overall rate for that age group in the state between 2003 and 2012.


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