The Truth About Teen Suicide
The Search for Zack
Matt got in the car and started driving around, looking for Zack. While one officer stayed behind with Jane, the other set out with Pete to search for clues. They cruised from one of Zack's favorite places to another. They even circled the school, but the courtyard was not visible from the car. When the officer took Pete home he went back out into the bitter cold and walked through the whole town -- the railroad tracks, the woods -- thinking he might see his son.
It was the worst night of Jane's life. "I still had hope but part of me feared he might already be gone," she later recalled.
The school custodian made the grisly discovery near dawn. Zack lay facedown on a sidewalk in the courtyard. His earbuds were still in place, but his glasses lay shattered on the ground next to him.
Because the extreme cold weather masked important forensic clues, the exact time of death could not be pinpointed. According to the county medical examiner, the impact of the fall lacerated Zack's liver and one of his lungs and caused multiple fractures, especially in his skull, jaw, and nose. Apparently he had taken additional measures to kill himself: Near his jugular was a stab wound; a kitchen knife lay nearby.
"You don't expect something like this," said Glen Rock Police Chief Steven Cherry, who was very distressed by the scene. "There are plenty of troubled kids in the world who, unfortunately, find no other way of relief than to take their own life. In some cases you can forecast the risk. But there were no signs here. We never picked this kid up, he was never intoxicated, he was not a blip on our screen."
That sentiment was echoed by Zack's teachers. Alan Feldman, his advanced placement psychology teacher, suspected nothing. "I'm fairly good at picking up kids' emotional feelings," he said, noting that he'd seen Zack the day before his death. "But I had no sense whatsoever that he was anxious or thinking about doing something like this at all."
"From what I saw of him -- and obviously we didn't see everything we needed to -- he was pretty confident," added guidance counselor Dan Brodhead, who was meeting with Zack up to three times a week in order to help him with college applications.
Indeed, it's a familiar, if grim, scenario: a teenager's traumatic death by his own hand, a painful funeral and heartbroken friends and relatives who shake their heads and say they never saw it coming. Yet, as an examination of Zack Toskovich's short life reveals, the clues are nearly always there; they may just be imperceptible to all but a chosen few. Zack, a brilliant, outwardly upbeat young man, didn't entirely conceal his private demons: He confided previous suicide attempts to two friends, who never told an adult what they knew.