Second Donegal sister found dead

Thu, Dec 13, 2012, 00:00

The teenage sister of a schoolgirl who died by suicide less than two months ago has died, the school she attended has confirmed.

Shannon Gallagher (15), who paid emotional tributes following 13-year-old Erin’s death, was found dead in Co Donegal last night.

It is believed she had also taken her own life.

Donegal VEC, which runs Finn Valley College in Stranorlar, which both girls attended, said it was "trying to find the words and response to the tragedy".

Chief executive Shaun Purcell said school staff and health agencies involved needed to be given time to support the community.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, school and community at this sad time," he said.

The Gallagher family, from Ballybofey, were said to be "completely distressed" by the tragedy.

Erin had posted comments on a social networking site before her death on October 27th, reacting to people she claimed had been bullying her. Investigations were launched into claims that she had been a victim of cyberbullying.

Two psychologists, guidance counsellors, Finn Valley principal Frank Dooley and other teaching staff met this morning to discuss how to support students.

Shannon was found dead at about midnight last night. A Garda spokeswoman said she was found in a townland known as Stranamuck, near Castlefinn, Co Donegal several miles from her home.

A crisis incident team was put in place at Finn Valley College and Mr Purcell said the school would still have been in crisis mode following Erin’s death.

In a statement on behalf of the Donegal VEC, Mr Purcell said the primary concern was the welfare of pupils and staff.

“This is an extremely difficult time for all concerned. The critical incident team is in place in the school as a support for students and staff,” he said.

“We understand that the press and media are anxious to cover the tragedy. However, the welfare of its students and staff is the primary concern of Co Donegal VEC. We request that the appropriate agencies are allowed the necessary time and space to support the school.”

In a statement, the Health Service Executive (HSE) West said it had been notified of a tragic, unexpected death in Donegal.

“The HSE extends its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased,” it said.

“Currently, the HSE is liaising with the family in relation to this incident and all supports are being made available to provide assistance at this difficult time.”

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and the Department of Education were “deeply shocked and saddened” to learn of her death and extended sympathies to her family and friends, a Department of Education spokeswoman said.

The Department’s priority was to provide support to the students and staff at the Donegal school.

Psychologists from National Educational Psychological Service were at the school as part of the critical incident team working with colleagues from the National Office of Suicide Prevention and HSE mental health services, the spokeswoman said.

Donegal South West TD Pearse Doherty said he urged Minister for Health James Reilly to ensure the HSE was taking all steps to support friends and family grieving following the death.

The Sinn Fein TD, who knows the Gallagher family, said it was vital care was provided to vulnerable people in the area.

“I spoke to the minister this morning and asked him to ensure that appropriate services from the HSE were made available and that counselling would be ongoing,” Mr Doherty said.

Mayor of Donegal Frank McBrearty expressed his sincerest condolences to the girl’s family and friends.

“His thoughts and prayers are with Shannon’s family, friends and her wider community at this very sad time,” he said in a statement through the county council.

Mr McBrearty joined the Donegal VEC in appealing for authorities be given time and space to review the circumstances of Shannon’s death and respond in the most appropriate way.

“He is also asking that the wishes of the family for privacy at this very sad time be respected by all concerned,” the council said.

A leading suicide prevention campaigner has warned about the risk of copycat suicides from publicity in the wake of the deaths of Shannon and Erin
Gallagher.

Dan Neville appealed for support for young people who may be in deep crisis following the double tragedy.

The Fine Gael TD and president of the Irish Association of Suicidology also warned the media has a responsibility to prevent what he described as “the
contagion effect” — where a loved one of the deceased may carry out a similar act.

“A young person who sees photographs displayed or reports sensationalising the suicide, that young person might be in deep crisis following the death or might
be dealing with issues that are completely separate,” Mr Neville said.

“But they may see these reports and think, ‘Could I be saved from this terrible place?’ There is an element of influence there.”

Mr Neville said not all young people who die by suicide suffer from a psychological illness.

“There are often other reasons that youngsters can find themselves in deep despair,” he added.

“They are at a stage in their lives that develops so quickly and they don’t know how to handle their feelings.”

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), said volunteers are on hand to support young people or their parents who need help.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with the Gallagher family and the friends of Erin and Shannon at this incredibly difficult time,” it said.

“The ISPCC are urging young people to talk to their parents or someone they trust if they need support.”

Anyone in need of support is urged to contact Childline on 1800 666 666 or text Talk to 50101, Samaritans on 1890 200 091, or Console suicide prevention on 1800 201 890.

The Health Service Executive advised parents to be aware of their children’s reactions following traumatic events.

A local helpline for parents from Co Donegal only who have concerns about their children can be contacted in confidence at 1850 400 911.

PA