Suicides of 3 boys stun rural Branford


Published: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 13, 2005 at 11:50 p.m.
The apparently self-inflicted death of a 12-year-old Branford-area boy on Wednesday was the third hanging death in the Suwannee County community in about four months.
The boy's mother blames the deaths on a Web site she says encourages teens to choke themselves until they nearly pass out. The sheriff said he has no conclusive evidence yet to prove what motivated the boys to take their own lives and is investigating all possibilities. The mother and the sheriff have joined others in their community to try to figure out how to prevent other children from dying.
Tevin Dwayne Touchton, 12, a sixth-grader at Branford Middle High School, died Wednesday inside the bedroom of the rural Branford area home where he lived with his 14-year-old sister and their mother, Miriam Bousquet, 34, a certified nursing assistant.
According to a preliminary report by Suwannee County investigators, when Tevin and his sister got home from school on Wednesday, their mother's car was being repossessed. The children went inside the house and woke their mother to give her their report cards. Tevin's report card included a failing grade.
"He had an F on his report card, and he knew the rules," Bousquet said. "If you come home with less than a C you are grounded until the next report card comes out. He tried to get me to say he would be off restriction if he brought that grade up on his progress report, but I told him the rule was all nine weeks."
Bousquet said she sent both children to their rooms to clean them and left the house to go next door to her father's home. Less than half an hour later, family members found Tevin in his room hanging from a belt from the upper bunk bed. Bousquet performed CPR on her son until an ambulance crew arrived and took over, but Tevin could not be resuscitated and was pronounced dead at 5:20 p.m.
"He was friends with the first boy who died like this, and I took Tevin to his funeral back in November," Bousquet said. "When we were at that boy's funeral he told me he could never kill himself and he didn't understand how anyone could - and now he's dead."
Bousquet said her father, Carl Johansen, helped her search the computer at home that Tevin had used recently to access the Internet, and they followed Tevin's route to an Internet site that other children have told them advocates choking themselves until just before passing out as a thrill.
During the past few months, two boys, 12 and 14, also have died of apparent self-hangings in the Branford area, in southern Suwannee County.
Dr. Wayne Goodman, professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of Florida School of Medicine and a member of the Governor's Suicide Prevention Task Force, said teen deaths by hanging are becoming more frequent in Florida.
"Over the last 25 years, the rate of teen suicide has pretty much been constant or gone down slightly, and it is at about five completed suicides per 100,000 persons per year," Goodman said. "Recently, hanging has become more prevalent and we are seeing more of it as teens have less access to guns for a variety of reasons. So the rate of suicide has not decreased and teens have found other means than guns."
Sheriff Tony Cameron, who spent seven years working as dean of students at Suwannee High School in Live Oak before becoming sheriff two weeks ago, said he is aware of the rumors and speculation circulating in the south end of Suwannee County about the three boys' deaths.
"A lot of people want to think it is one thing or another, but this is a tragic incident no matter how it occurred and we have to do whatever we can to make sure it doesn't happen to others by keeping an open mind and working together," Cameron said.
School district officials have asked a suicide prevention specialist to meet with them and the Sheriff's Office and other community leaders in the next few days to develop a strategy to quickly avert more deaths.
"We want to have a prevention plan," Cameron said. "We want to try to educate our teachers on what kind of symptoms to watch for, but sometimes there are none."
Cameron said he has assigned deputies to research Web site connections in the three deaths, but most importantly, he said, he wants to make sure that the deaths will not divide the community.
"We need to unite as a community rather than point fingers, and if we all work together - teachers and law enforcement and churches and citizens - then we can strive to avoid anymore (deaths)," Cameron said.
Tevin's funeral has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday at Lebanon Baptist Church, which is off U.S. 129 outside Branford.
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@gvillesun.com.

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