To many who knew him, Douglas Ealey II was pegged for success, a Suitland High School senior admired by school officials and his peers.
He was chosen to represent 105,000 fellow students on the Prince George's County Board of Education, had won awards for school leadership and band and had good prospects for admission to several colleges.
But yesterday morning, with one gunshot to his chest, Ealey, 17, took his life, police said. Shortly before, his mother Patricia had rushed home from work after learning that a friend had received a note hinting that Ealey was contemplating suicide, police said.
Police said she noticed that a gun kept in their District Heights home was missing and as she reached her son's room, she heard the shot.
The youth's death, classified as a suicide by county police, brought home the growing national concern over teen-agers who take their own lives.
"Maybe the lesson is that we've got to get to know everybody a little bit better," said School Superintendent John A. Murphy. "I hope this will cause more parents to take time to talk to their kids and make the subject of suicide not taboo."
Among Ealey's schoolmates yesterday there was disbelief and difficulty comprehending his death.
"He had everything going for him," said classmate Remeta Johnson, one of many students who left Suitland High School in tears yesterday after learning of their friend's death over the public address system from Principal Walter Battle.
In addition to extensive student government activities, Ealey was enrolled in classes for the academically gifted and was considering studying medicine.
The youth's death also baffled county school officials who knew him well through his role as student representative on the school board.
"From my observations, he was a very well-adjusted, bright young man," said Murphy, who said he had talked at length with Ealey a few weeks ago at a board convention in Ocean City. "I wish I would have known something was troubling him, so I could have helped him.
People who knew Ealey saw none of the signs that experts say signal adolescent depression, including personality changes, rapid weight loss or gain, fatigue or a drop in grades at school.
There was only one teen-age suicide in the county last year and one the year before, but nationally, the number of teen-agers taking their own lives has tripled in the past 25 years and could be considerably higher. While government statistics report 5,200 teen-agers killed themselves last year, some experts have estimated that the actual number may be three times that figure because of suicides that are reported as accidents.
The issue has gained widespread attention recently, with the airing last week of a network television drama and a Senate committee hearing last month. At the hearing, a suicide prevention program instituted by Fairfax County school officials three years ago was singled out for special praise.
Ealey, according to friends and school officials, showed no obvious signs of unhappiness. But according to police reports, he had written a note to a close friend, hinting that he might commit suicide. The friend received the note yesterday morning and called Ealey's mother who, according to a neighbor, works for the federal government.
Board member Sarah Johnson, for whom Ealey was scheduled to work in today's election at the polls, said she talked to him Sunday night.
"I know that the word is suicide, but I can't accept that word, knowing Doug," Johnson said. "If there were a kid who seemed to have it all together it was Doug."