An Indiana County community is receiving an outpouring of support across the region in the wake of two separate suicides by Blairsville High School students.
The Blairsville-Saltsburg School District has opened its doors to Indiana County's crisis team and the county coroner's office, while establishing a community grieving counseling system to support students, staff and faculty who are trying to cope, Assistant Superintendent Jeff Soles said.
"We have an open-door policy for students to come to us as they need us," Soles said, noting that school guidance counselors and a school psychologist are available for those who want to talk. "We're doing whatever we can to be as supportive as possible."
One student committed suicide Oct. 5. Another did the same on Tuesday.
Both were high school seniors, according to Indiana County Coroner Jerry Overman. And in both cases, the teens died inside private residences, he said.
Soles said the mood in the district remained very somber Thursday. School officials cancelled athletic and extra-curricular events this week, including a Friday football game against Ligonier Valley, to give the school community time to heal, Soles said.
"This isn't the normal school atmosphere right now and we understand that," he said. "This is a time for reflection ... for everyone to have a chance to grieve."
The district's Facebook page has been flooded with well-wishes in recent days.
"Our thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathies go out to the entire Blairsville community in this time of grief. Our entire football family stands united with the Blairsville community," Ligonier Valley High School Coach Roger Beitel said through a Facebook post.
The hashtag #BlairsvilleStrong was trending on local pages.
Support for those struggling with death, particularly suicide, is valuable, Overman said.
Cambria County's coroners office hosts a Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention program balloon release every October to allow survivors to honor their lost loved ones, share stories and heal together.
More than 50 people attended the most recent event, held Oct. 2 at the Johnstown Inclined Plane.
Overman is a member of Indiana County's suicide task force, which was formed to educate the public about depression and suicide signs and provide support for families that suicide victims leave behind.
"No one wants to see something like this happen," he said. "It's every school community's worst nightmare."
Overman did not identify the individuals who died in the separate instances, citing office policy.
The Tribune-Democrat does not traditionally identify victims of suicides.