The suicide of a 6-year-old Payette boy has disturbed many in the community and left many wondering if a child so young is even capable of such an act.
At around 6:20 p.m. on June 3, Payette police received a call from a frantic mother that her son had attempted suicide and was nonresponsive.
This is only the fourth confirmed case of a 6-year-old committing suicide in the United States since 2007, Payette Police Chief Mark Clark said. Both the Payette and Fruitland police departments responded to the scene, as well as Payette Fire Rescue.
“The first thing I’d like the community to know is that we assigned four detectives to work solely on this case,” Clark said. This was to ensure that the case was given proper attention by qualified individuals to determine that a child so young did in fact commit suicide.
According to Clark, the victim was watching cartoons on the TV in the living room with his 7-year-old sister, while another sibling, a 13-year-old, was napping in a bedroom. The young boy’s mother and stepfather were both home at the time and were showering when the incident occurred.
The victim left his sister and went into the kitchen, which was near the living room, and the sister reported to police that she heard her brother making noise in the kitchen, Clark said.
The young boy proceeded to take off his belt, tie it into a makeshift noose and hang himself from the freezer handle of the family’s refrigerator, Clark said. After the cartoons ended, his sister went into the kitchen and found his body. Later, she told police that she thought it was about 20 minutes from the time he left her alone in the living room to the time she found his body.
Clark said that the girl began to scream and ran to find her parents, who immediately rushed to the kitchen, cut the belt and one parent performed CPR in a nearby bedroom while the other called 911.
First responders quickly arrived and took over administering CPR to the young boy, Clark said, but to no avail. When the police arrived, both the boy’s mother and his step-father were wearing towels and still wet from the shower and the 13-year-old was still sleeping.
The investigation and a coroner’s report concluded that all signs pointed to suicide and no evidence of foul play existed, Clark said.
“The method used was something he could have done himself very easily,” Clark said.
However, while hanging himself was confirmed to be intentional, it’s impossible to tell if suicide was the 6-year-old boy’s intent or if he didn’t truly understand the consequences of what he was doing.
“We’ll never know this,” Clark said. “All this boy did was take a nylon belt and make a noose, put the belt through the handle, stepped up underneath and pulled the belt tight in a way that even if he had wanted to undo it, it would have been nearly impossible.”
Clark said that it’s possible the noises his sister heard from the kitchen were from the boy struggling to free himself, but there’s no way to know for sure.
During the investigation, police interviewed several family members as well as counselors at his school, Clark said. The investigation found that the child had anger issues that seemed to stem from his parents’ divorce two years earlier. School records also documented the boy’s anger-related issues and that he didn’t appear to be handling the divorce very well.
Lucas Hooker, a Lifeways qualified mental health professional in Oregon and a licensed professional counselor in Idaho, said that situations like this are difficult to comprehend, especially when they involve such a young child. There are signs to look for, however, and resources available to seek help if a parent suspects his or her child may be having difficulty adjusting to a major life change and may be in danger of self-harm.
“The first thing to do is get them to see their primary care provider and express their concerns with them,” Hooker said. “These pediatricians are able to send referrals to mental health providers out there.”
Hooker said that most children he sees lack the verbal and cognitive ability to properly express their emotions, and “lashing out” with behavior that’s not normal for the child is a common, yet unhealthy, way to do so.
Along with aggression or behavior not normal to the child, children who may be suffering from depression or suicidal ideations will often have nightmares, wet the bed and experience other types of regressions, and will also show signs of feeling hopeless. They may also become preoccupied with thoughts of death.
“If a parent’s gut is telling them that something is wrong, they need to follow that,” Hooker said. “It’s also important for people to know if there has been a prior suicide in the family or if the child is actually verbalizing suicide to get help. If there’s a family history of suicide, the odds of the child being suicidal jump exponentially.”