Next to last paragraph reads: "'Clearly, there are issues around taking Zoloft and teenagers committing suicide,' Young said. 'I don't know if there's a connection, but it's happening to other kids. Other people are dealing with this.'"
Young train victim had history of depression
Mother suspects antidepressants may be linked to teen's suicide
By Ricci Graham, STAFF WRITER
HAYWARD Jake Henry's sister, Dana, sleeps in his bed now, waiting for her big brother to return. Jake's 7-year-old brother, Gabe, can't understand why the family's home has been overrun by visitors.
And then there's Donna Lee, the grieving mother of three, still left to wonder why Jake is gone.
Lee's life has been a living nightmare since Friday, when a Hayward police officer and an official with the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau arrived at her home around 1:30 a.m. with crushing news: Jake, a budding artist and the consummate big brother, was killed by a Union Pacific train as it made its way across West Tennyson Road near Huntwood Avenue in South Hayward.
Lee, 44, is too distraught to speak publicly, but her sister-in-law Cindy Young spoke Wednesday on behalf of the family.
"I don't think (Gabe) has the capacity to know that Jake is gone," Young, a Davis resident, said during a telephone interview. "And Dana has slept in Jake's bed every night since this has happened. It's a tragedy."
Investigators believe Jake committed suicide by stepping in front of the train, a development that shocked Lee. Young said Lee was unaware her son had committed suicide until she was told by a friend who read an account of the incident in Tuesday's Daily Review.
"She told me, 'Cindy, it was an accident,'" Young said. "All I can guess is she made it up in her head that it was an accident. I don't know if she's come to terms with it. Nobody had said, other than the newspapers, that Jake committed suicide."
Frank Gentle, a supervisor in the coroner's office, said Wednesday that the family had been informed of the nature of Jake's death. But that fact is inconsequential at this point of greater concern, Young said, are the many problems at school that family members now believe contributed to Jake's sense of despair and hopelessness.
The eldest of three siblings, Jake had graduated from Cesar Chavez Middle School this spring and was getting ready to attend summer school. But his initial days at Cesar Chavez, Young said, were extremely difficult.
The slightly built boy was a loner and was a target of bullies, she said. Life at the campus was so difficult for Jake that Young's brother-in-law, Marty James, and Lee met with school administrators and asked that they intervene.
"The school was supportive," Young said. "But that was the beginning of a difficult time for Jake, because kids were picking on him all the time. He wasn't depressed until he started middle school. He was a jolly, happy kid before he went to middle school."
Administrators at the campus are on summer break and were not available for comment.
Jake was so miserable during his seventh-grade year that he told a fellow student he was considering suicide, Young said. Concerned about the boy's mental state, school officials contacted Lee, and his mother took him to a local hospital, where he underwent psychiatric treatment for about week, Young said.
Upon his release, doctors put Jake on Zoloft and Effexor two controversial antidepressants that some believe are linked to teenage suicides.
"He had improved tremendously," Young said. "His mother thought the medication was really helping."
As his condition improved, so did Jake's outlook. He made friends with a small group of students during his eighth-grade year, leading Young to believe her nephew had emerged from his emotional malaise.
"What a blessing it was," Young said. "He was having a conversation about this girl who was his friend and how he was feeling accepted."
On Thursday, Lee dropped her son off at school and he spoke eagerly of attending summer class. "Everything seemed fine," Young said.
Later that evening, Jake spent the night with a friend. But something happened between Thursday and Friday, the day he died. No one knows what it was.
Lee spent Friday evening searching the neighborhood for her son before she was informed of his death. "It's just like something snapped," Young said. "He clearly went to another place. How he got there, I don't know."
What the family does know is that Jake was a loving brother who cared dearly about his autistic sister, Dana, and his little brother, Gabe.
"Donna wants folks to know that from a mother's point of view, Jake was not a desperate kid," Young said. "He was a kid going through a difficult time, and she did what she thought was best for him."
Young said the family will miss Jake's spirit, but there are plenty of reminders of the boy. Young said Jake was an amazing free-hand artist, and that the family will always have his artwork to reflect on when they think of him.
Still, Young can't help but wonder whether the controversial medication the boy was on for the past year played any role in his death.
"Clearly, there are issues around taking Zoloft and teenagers committing suicide," Young said. "I don't know if there's a connection, but it's happening to other kids. Other people are dealing with this."
The family said services for Jake will be private.
Ricci Graham covers court and law enforcement. He can be reached at (510) 293-2469 or at email@example.com.