Tragedy strikes USM
Published: Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 11:11
Counseling services are available to USM students left reeling from a series of deaths among the student body this fall, including Steven McGehee and Jeremy Paschal, who both died this weekend.
Deena Crawford, director of USM's Student Counseling Services, said personnel in her office can help students in need of immediate or longer term counseling services. All any student needs to do is ask, she said.
"We have individual counseling services available free of charge for any USM student and services are confidential," said Angela McGuire, a USM clinical therapist. "We're all licensed mental health counselors."
Reports of the deaths of McGehee and Paschal bring the total number of student deaths this semester to six.
The body of McGehee, a freshman who was reported missing Nov. 6, was discovered Friday in Yalobusha County. The freshman's body was found in his car on a roadside, officials said. Yalobusha County Coroner Ronnie Stark said the death has been ruled a suicide, making McGehee's the third student suicide this semester.
Funeral services for McGehee will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday at Church Road Baptist Church in Horn Lake, Miss. Donations to help with the cost of arrangements can be made to the Steven McGehee Fund at any Trustmark bank in Mississippi.
Paschal, 20, a junior from Oak Grove, was killed in a car accident in Purvis Friday. Services for Paschal will be 10 a.m. today at Calvary Baptist Church in Oak Grove.
These two deaths come on the heels of deaths among the student population at USM this fall, including:
- Isaac Taylor, 20, died Nov. 8. The coroner's report attributed the death to a self-inflicted ligature hanging.
- Peter Wilkes, 18, died Oct. 10. The coroner's report attributed the death to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
- Savannah Smith, 21, drowned in a Hattiesburg apartment complex swimming pool Sept. 8.
- Lejulia White, 18, died Aug. 20 in a car accident near the university.
USM's Gay/Straight alliance will hold a candlelight vigil Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Shoemaker Square to honor the memory of McGehee and Taylor. GSA council member Anna Davis said, "It's just a chance for everybody to come together and remember the two guys."
Experts say accidents are the leading cause of death among people under age 35. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention lists suicide as the third leading cause of death among those between the ages of 15 and 24.
Mitch Berman, a psychology professor at USM who specializes in research involving self-injurious behavior in humans, said suicides are rare and can be hard to predict. But he said there are warning signs.
"Trying to predict if a particular person will commit suicide within a certain time period is not possible," said Berman. "However, when a person has consistent and intense suicidal thoughts, and a specific plan to hurt him or herself, we take this very seriously.
"If you are a student and a friend begins to talk about committing suicide, take this very seriously," Berman said. "Bring it to the attention of a resident adviser or other university staff immediately."
Dean of Students Eddie Holloway expressed grief about this semester's deaths.
"It's a sad day when we have to say goodbye to our fallen Eagles," he said. "We pay our condolences to family and friends, and for campus friends, we offer counseling services."
Crawford said Southern Miss Counseling Center personnel are available to help those on either side of all these tragedies.
"No. 1 is that we have a consultation service (available) 24-7, so if anybody has a concern about another student, they can call here and we'll talk about the situation and help guide (students)," Crawford said. Other options also exist, she said. Students in need of counseling can call (601) 266-4829 during the day and (601) 606-HELP (4357) in the event of an emergency.
A counselor is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Counseling Center, which is located on the second floor of Kennard Washington Hall near the front of the USM campus. "You can just walk in with an emergency and ask to be seen by the counselor," Crawford said.
Crawford said those who are not in an emergency need situation but realize their "stressors are piling up" can come in any week day from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2-4 p.m. to fill out paperwork and see a counselor.
Finally, the Campus Action Referral and Evaluation System program is also in place to help students find their way, Crawford said. CARES has "13 administrators who evaluate students of concern" and help determine the best way to help those students," she said.