Hooper Bay takes action to prevent more suicides

Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2003

HOOPER BAY - The Bering Sea village of Hooper Bay has been rocked by two suicides and two attempts within a week.

The village survived even a worse spate of suicides five years ago, but officials are hoping an aggressive counseling campaign will prevent more this time.

Hooper Bay resident Mary Bell, 18, shot herself Feb. 7 in Mountain Village where she had gone to live with her sister. The next day in Hooper Bay, 22-year-old Tyler Joseph shot himself but survived. But a week later, Joseph's younger sister, Denise Joseph, 19, hung herself.

Police had been busy the night before with alcohol calls and a suicide attempt by a 17-year-old girl who had overdosed on pills and slashed her wrists.

The incidents are on top of others that already was causing suffering in the town, said Hooper Bay Police Chief James Hoelscher.

"It's a lot for a small town to go through," Hoelscher said. "It's amazing that a lot more people's spirits haven't been broken by this."

Hooper Bay, a growing village of 1,300 about halfway down the coast between the mouths of the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, is familiar with the problem of suicide. From 1995 to 2001, 11 people killed themselves, according to state statistics.

Suicides peaked in Hooper Bay during a 13-month period in 1998 and 1999, when five high school students took their own lives.

That grim period was on many people's minds this month, said Ted Baer, counselor at Hooper Bay School, which has 400 students.

"They were very afraid it was going to be happening all over again," he said.

Having been through it before, Hooper Bay knew how to cope, said Sandra Mironov, deputy director of health services for Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. The regional health corporation, which normally has three mental health and substance abuse counselors in Hooper Bay, sent more, Mironov said. The Lower Yukon School District flew in additional counselors for students.

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