Correction to This Article
An April 24 Metro article misidentified the D.C. television station that broadcasts "It's Academic." It is WRC-TV (Channel 4), not WNBC.

Teens' Suicides Breed Anxiety

By Tara Bahrampour, Ruben Castaneda and Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, April 24, 2006

Weeks after a bright, popular junior at Albert Einstein High School shot himself in the head, another junior there committed suicide Wednesday by stepping in front of an oncoming train.

Their deaths, in addition to the death two months ago in a possible suicide of a former Einstein student, have rattled the tightknit Kensington school community. Although some parents of Einstein students had yet to hear of Wednesday's incident, others were connecting the three deaths and expressing concern about the stresses of teenage life.

Chatter spread on blogs, with stunned students wondering how the deaths could have happened and whether they could have done anything to prevent them.

On Thursday, Einstein Principal James Fernandez gathered the junior class in the auditorium to announce the death of Elisabeth Stanford, 16. He made a similar announcement to members of the senior class and brought in grief counselors and a crisis team to talk to students.

"It's so difficult to make an announcement that a student has died," he said. "You don't know how kids are going to take the news."

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, Stanford, of Silver Spring, stood on the train tracks in Rockville as a CSX train approached, police said. Since then, the teenager's family and friends have struggled to understand why a thoughtful girl who was enrolled in the school's prestigious International Baccalaureate program and who dreamed of becoming a wildlife biologist would end her life so violently.

On March 5, Kanishke Karunaratne, 16, also of Silver Spring, shot himself in his bedroom. He was also in the IB program, which prepares students to pass a series of exams to earn a diploma that is accepted at universities internationally. He was also captain of a team that appeared twice on WNBC's "It's Academic" competition.

Neither had given any indication that anything was amiss, their families said.

Standing in the doorway of her brick house, Stanford's mother, Sherri Odegaarden, said yesterday that she was shocked by her daughter's suicide. The midterm grades she received Wednesday, a few hours before she died, were not what she was capable of, Odegaarden said, but on her report card, Elisabeth wrote, "This has nothing to do with grades." It was the only note she left, her parents said.

About two years ago, Stanford began seeing a therapist for problems her mother said involved "philosophical teen angst" unrelated to academics.

Uday Karunaratne, sitting in his living room decorated with Asian artwork, described Kanishke as "the perfect son" and said he shared his parents' dream that he would one day attend Oxford University in England. His fallback choices were the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard and Stanford universities.

The teenager liked to play violent video games, which concerned his parents so much that two days before his death, his father forbade him to play them. The next day, Karunaratne took SAT preparation classes from 2 to 6 p.m., and the following day, he slept unusually late, until about noon, his father said.

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