Stop: There Is Life Beyond The Tracks
One accident on the North Jersey Coast Line was too much. Now it's up to five since April 1, 2011.
The voices are getting louder now.
They're getting louder than the thunderous waves that crash on the beaches of Manasquan, Long Branch, Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights in the middle of a Nor'easter. They're louder than the voices on that MTV show that co-opted the Jersey Shore name.
Seven dead in three years. At least three of them were suicides.
From 2008 to 2009, four Manasquan High School students - or recent graduates at the time - were hit and killed by NJ Transit trains.
Now Wednesday, when a teenager from Spring Lake Heights died after he was hit by a train. He apparently made no attempt to get out of the way, officials said.
These tragedies on the Jersey Coast rail tracks were once thought to be isolated and independent. Now the grief counselors in Manasquan and elsewhere in the Jersey Shore are using words like "trend" and "copycat" to describe the disturbing pattern of death and pain.
They're doing it not so much out of fear, but more out of caution. After a 17-year-old boy was killed on the Long Branch tracks in 2011, they warned the media: Be careful, because this could happen again.
Then, it did: A 19-year-old Point Pleasant Borough woman died in Spring Lake after weaving around the downed gate, and stopping her car on the tracks..
The voices online are getting louder, too. They're posting on Facebook, offering their condolences, and venting their helplessness. "So sad," some write. "So young," write others.
Others, including the opinions voiced by professionals, have veered into the realm of analysis, and even problem-solving.
Many of them have wondered aloud: Is there a link? They've asked, even as they said it with a bit of trepidation, knowing that any link could encourage more.
Each of them seem to be saying, one after another, the same repetitive desperate plea:
Stop, and move on. There is no glamour in death. There is nothing heroic about taking your own life.
Stop, and look for help before doing anything that can be harmful, and not just to you, but also to others.
Among those voices are the crisis counselors from Manasquan High School. When the tragic trend of death took place in 2011, they actively engaged the media, asking that it reconsider photos, details and other information that could act as "triggers" for such behavior.
In the Manasquan area, the feelings about trains and tragedy are very raw. Some who have analyzed the tragedies - from mental health professionals to the ordinary citizen - have complained about a shortage of alternatives and services for young people in need. They've decried state and federal governments for turning a blind eye toward mental health.
But, in a 2011 interview, Denise Wegemen, a Manasquan High School grief counselor, and others shuddered at the notion that there is not enough help. If anything, they want people to believe that there is a place to turn. They've worked too hard for years, trying to get people to think before they act.
They want people to think that the final solution comes in a phone call, not on a wayward drive to the North Jersey Coast Line.
Those places to turn are local, and they are national:
- The National Suicide Hotline, at 1-800-SUICIDE. Also, a Monmouth County youth helpline is available through 180-TURNAROUND AT 888-222-2228.
- A program for teens at The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide.
- Manasquan High School website called "Friends Helping Friends.
- A 24-hour pyschiatric emergency number at Monmouth Medical Center at 732-923-6999.
The grief counselors and the mental health professionals know that suicide is one of the leading causes of death among teens. That's why they've worked with the media, and worked successfully with news organizations in trying to stop the glorifying of suicides through photos and words.
They're working hard to get people to stop, and look around, and realize there are other places to go.
There is life beyond the tracks.