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See how one PA high school supports rival in wake of student suicides

"Our students know each other, they are our neighbors."
/ Source: TODAY

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to additional resources.

One Chester County high school is showing the true meaning of support in the wake of tragedy.

After Downingtown High School West in southeast Pennsylvania lost two students to suicide in a six week span this spring, athletics rival Coatesville Area Senior High School knew they needed to reach out.

"There is no greater loss than that of a young person," Principal Michele Snyder of Coatesville Area Senior High School told TODAY Parents. "Even though Downingtown West is our oldest rival, we are only seven short miles apart. Our students know each other, they are our neighbors and CASH (Coatesville Area Senior High School) wanted to show our support."

Snyder said she met with student leadership to formulate a plan.

"Together, we wanted to reach out in some way to show the Downingtown community that we cared about them," she said. "I suggested that we create a banner that read 'CASH stands with Downingtown West, No one Fights Alone'."

The high school principal shared that the students took it from there.

"They set up tables outside the cafeteria and used the main office as a staging area in between classes," Snyder explained. "The outpouring of love and kindness in the words and messages on the banner from the students and the many staff members was exceptional."

"There is no greater loss than that of a young person," Michele Snyder, Coatesville Area Senior High School principal, said.Courtesy Downingtown Area School District

"Sending love and compassion," wrote one student. "We are in this together," another penned.

Snyder shared that the circumstances of the pandemic have impacted everyone in many ways.

"Everyone has experienced a sense of loss and struggle," she said. "In this small gesture, we were able to let the entire Downingtown West Community know that Coatesville stands with them."

For Downingtown West, the gesture spoke volumes.

"Our hearts are really heavy as we reflect on the passing of these students," Jennifer Shealy, Director of Communications for Downingtown Area School District, told TODAY Parents. "It was a very heartwarming gift and we are just so grateful to see how our entire Chester County community has come together and banded together to support our students. It’s going to take our entire school community time to process, grieve, and heal together."

In the wake of multiple community suicides, one parent knew she needed to take action.

Megan Bruton, a mom of three, told TODAY Parents that the latest suicides hit very close to home. "This last student lost to suicide played football with my son. I just went to bed really upset thinking 'I have to do something'."

Burton joined forces with community members to organize candlelight gatherings, 'Lights of Hope,' to show support and worked with local teens to create advocacy bracelets.

"I always preach action to my kids so I wanted them to see people really showing up for them," she shared, adding that therapists donating their time will be on-site and the local funeral home, who has seen the toll firsthand, has offered their sound system.

Megan Bruton collaborated with local teens to have awareness bracelets and pins created as the community mourns multiple losses.Courtesy Megan Bruton

The event, slated to be held June 6, is just one step toward healing.

"Now more than ever we need to support each other," Snyder said. "Small acts of kindness have the greatest impact. It does not matter if you are Coatesville or Downingtown, we are all in this together. We must love each other, help each other, and with each small gesture, we will begin to heal."