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Student’s suicide stuns community

Sun., Dec. 12, 2004

The day after a student killed himself at school, those who knew Skyler Cullitan gathered at Lakeside High School on Saturday to talk about the tragedy with counselors and members of the clergy.

“This event has rocked our sense of security within the school, within the community and within our families,” said Michael Z. Green, superintendent of Nine Mile Falls School District. “Our thoughts and prayers are extended to the student’s family. We can’t know their pain.”

On Friday, the 16-year-old boy brought a .38-caliber handgun to school in his backpack, according to Green. At 1:20 p.m., less than an hour before the end of the school day, he stood in the school foyer, according to students, and shot himself in the head.

Bob Anacker, the school principal, was the first adult to respond, Green said. While Anacker performed first aid, staff at the school implemented an emergency lockdown by calling 911, closing the windows and locking classroom doors.

When Cullitan was flown by helicopter to Deaconess Medical Center about 2:10 p.m., paramedics indicated that his condition was stabilized, said the superintendent. Four and a half hours later, Cullitan was dead.

His suicide has devastated the students, teachers and staff of Lakeside High School, located just off Highway 291 in Suncrest, about 14 miles northwest of Spokane. Roughly 40 students and several staff members came to school Saturday seeking emotional support from counselors and clergy members from local churches. This group of 12 people also will be available Monday, when classes will begin one hour later for all four schools in the district.

On Saturday afternoon, the district’s administrators, managers, school board members and counselors spent nearly four hours talking about what happened. They also discussed ways to support students and staff, as well as how to communicate information in a sensitive way, Green said.

On Monday, the district will mail a letter to parents with more details about the incident. That letter also will be posted on the district’s Web site. Administrators and others are also making plans for a community forum in late January.

Their hope is “to restore a sense of safety, security and peace to Lakeside High School and the Nine Mile community,” Green said. Students can’t learn unless they’re in an environment where they feel safe, he said.

The Stevens County Sheriff’s Office is also continuing its investigation. It’s unknown at this point where Cullitan got the gun he used.

A junior at Lakeside High, Cullitan was well-known and highly regarded at this school of about 550 students. He also had friends from throughout the Spokane area and beyond. Many described him as an expressive, happy-go-lucky boy who always had a hug, smile or kind word for the people he encountered.

“Being around him made you feel better,” said Heather Nugen, a junior at Ferris High School. “He had so much energy.”

She and many others were shocked to hear that Cullitan had taken his own life.

Kenny Cullitan, Skyler Cullitan’s 14-year-old cousin in Spokane, couldn’t the find the words to express how lost he felt when he learned that Skyler had died. His cousin was friendly and outgoing, and he wasn’t afraid to be different, Kenny said.

His fondest memories include a time when he and Skyler attended a Destination Imagination tournament at Gonzaga Prep. That day was captured in a photograph that he treasures – two boys with longish blond hair, drinking Mountain Dew while balancing grape juice boxes on their heads.

Another photo that Kenny will always keep is one of Skyler dressed as a hobbit in his cloak and medieval tunic, returning from the Garland Theatre after watching “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.”

While Skyler’s suicide caught her off guard, Mary Beth Cullitan, Kenny’s mom, said there was a part of Skyler that she and others never had a chance to understand. “He always seemed on the vulnerable side, because the world is not always kind to sweet, loving, open-hearted people,” she said.

“He was a special light,” said Mary Beth Cahill. “He didn’t see the world in a black-and-white way. There was a lot of color in his life.”


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