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Teen death brings community together

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The community is grieving the death of a Watertown High School senior by loving her.

Erin K. Foley, 17, was found dead Tuesday morning of a suspected suicide in the woods adjacent to Jefferson Community College. To commemorate her and prevent more teenagers from following her tragic path, JCC student Patrick M. Fleming started a Facebook public event, “A Day to Remember.”

More than 1,000 people have joined Mr. Fleming’s event since it was created. His only instruction to everyone is to write “love” on their arms on Wednesday.

“My sister has worked hard this year to start a club at Watertown High School in support of an organization known as To Write Love on Her Arms,” he wrote.

The organization is a nonprofit movement to provide hope for people dealing with suicide, self-injury, addiction and depression.

“It may seem like nothing to you, but if enough people are willing to put such a word on themselves and then express the meaning behind that word to those around them, we may be able to save a life,” wrote Mr. Fleming to people attending the event. “I appreciate you helping our cause, and I hope that this will begin to help those who are struggling with being bullied and those individuals who are depressed.”

The Facebook page shows photos of individuals and groups with “Love” written on their arms in support of Miss Foley and the cause.

“Being a guest in the Foley household for years, I had the privilege to get to know Erin on a personal level,” wrote Dylan Ellsworth on the page. “Erin had endless potential; I believed she was going to be an author, she had such a great imagination. I have no comment for all the ignorant bullies, notably those who attend Watertown High, but I hope people learn a valuable lesson in life from this. Erin should be remembered for who she was, and that’s herself!”

Some individuals, like Shaun B. Hough, have never met Miss Foley but still posted a picture of the declaration on his arm.

“Did not know Erin, but I knew she went through what no one deserves to experience,” he wrote. “My positive thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends.”

Despite the comments suggesting Miss Foley was bullied, Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said there is no evidence to support the claim.

“I can certainly express my deepest sympathy for the family. Any student’s death is a difficult situation to deal with,” he said. “It’s so difficult that it’s hard to express.”

Board of Education President Michael R. Flick agrees.

“The Watertown City School District is, by my definition, an extended family and during times of tragedy, families pull together to take care of one another,” he said. “Our administrative staff, counselors and teachers are all working very hard to help the student body, and each other, come to terms with such a tragic loss.”

High school Principal Lloyd L. Peck and Assistant Principal Leslie E. Atkinson were not available to comment on how the district is helping students grieve or commemorate their classmate. However, Sackets Harbor Glee Club is using the tragedy to reach out to students at WHS.

“My theory is to build self-esteem and confidence in these kids,” said club advisor Joanne T. Heaslip.

If someone is having thoughts of suicide, they can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Erin’s event page is at www.facebook.com/#!/events/410559635641503/

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