The Truth About Teen Suicide

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A Parent's Worst Nightmare

Could Zack have run away? Jane, also 53, would sooner have believed that her other kids -- daughters Alexandra, 21, and Kerre, 19 -- had snuck out of their college dorms to join the circus. Zack was known throughout the town for his genial smile, his enormous intellect and, especially, his contented home life. The previous April, when he and a number of high school kids had gone to Spain over spring break, he'd suffered the worst bout of homesickness of the group.

Jane raced upstairs and threw open Zack's door. Everything seemed normal. Video games were piled in one corner and the walls, as always, were bare except for a mounted VW hubcap he'd found on the side of a road. On top of Zack's bookshelf was a collection of energy drinks, a silly monument to his love of the jolt.

Except his bed was undisturbed, as tightly made up as an army bunk. Jane crossed to the desk. There a Post-it read, "Turn on the computer for more information." As Pete hovered behind her, she pushed the power button and the screen illuminated. In the middle of the desktop was a single document icon, titled "Goodbye." After a click, Jane began to read.

"Pete, call the police," she said, panic rising in her chest. "This is a suicide note."

Pete dialed 911, but Jane had a sinking feeling. Zack never tried anything without succeeding spectacularly. Even at a school filled with high achievers -- Glen Rock High School has been ranked sixth in the state and sends around 98 percent of its graduates to college -- Zack was a standout, in the running for class valedictorian at graduation in June. Early-admission letters and scholarships had already arrived from the University of Pittsburgh and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and more were hoped for from Columbia and Princeton.

As she looked into the face of her husband of three decades -- her high school sweetheart, the only man she had ever loved -- Jane had a flash of pure fear, a vision of what life might be like after this long night was over. "Pete, you have to promise me," she said, "whatever happens with Zack, we'll still be okay. Promise me that."

"I promise," Pete replied.

Glen Rock is an affluent, close-knit community of about 11,500 in northern New Jersey. Few things are more urgent there, or more rare, than the report of a missing child. Within minutes of Pete's call, two policemen arrived at the Toskovich home. The police suggested the couple call Zack's other friends; perhaps he'd gone out with one of them. They woke Zack's classmate Matt Casella at close to 1 a.m. Matt didn't know Zack's whereabouts, but when he turned on his cell phone he found the same text message Vanessa had received, also dated 12:10 a.m., February 8.

Continued on page 3:  The Search for Zack


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