By Emily West
The community continues to mourn the loss of an Amador Valley High School student who was killed by a train last Friday afternoon in what police concluded to be an apparent suicide.
Fourteen-year-old Evelyn Gonzalez was killed shortly after 2:30 p.m. Feb. 19 when she was hit by a Union Pacific freight train just west of the Santa Rita Road crossing next to the high school. Police and emergency crews were on the scene into the night, with the train still on the tracks, causing traffic problems around the hub of the city.
Funeral services were scheduled for Wednesday evening at Valley Community Church, with a crowd expected to fill the sanctuary. More than 100 fellow students also held a candlelight vigil at the school the Saturday, Feb. 20.
In response to the incident, the Pleasanton Unified School District planned a forum for the community Thursday night in the Amador Valley High library. At the forum, counselors spoke to parents and members to the public about how students are currently supported in the schools. They also reviewed signs of depression and looked for ways the community and schools can work together to support students.
Counselors were also made available over the weekend as well as throughout the week at the high school. Kevin Johnson, senior director of pupil services, told the school board Tuesday night that counselors from both Amador Valley and Foothill high schools will meet and discuss measures that can be adopted to prevent tragedies of this kind from occurring again.
Johnson also mentioned that they are converting the anonymous student support tip line at 417-5199 to receive texts along with voicemails. He added that phone numbers will show up if a message is texted to the line, but that they will commit to honoring the promise of anonymity.
"We encourage families to keep lines of communication open with your students and talk with them about their concerns and feelings," PUSD spokeswoman Myla Grasso said in an email to parents and staff.
Signs of depression, she added, include: sudden changes in behavior, dramatic changes in appetite, sleeping difficulties, poor performance in school, trouble concentrating and agitation, inability to sit still, unexplained loss of energy or excessive fatigue, loss of interest in friends, increased drug/alcohol use, constant feeling of worthlessness or self-hatred, excessive risk taking, preoccupation with death, dying, or suicide; and giving away of personal or prized possessions.
Pleasanton Police Lt. Jeff Bretzing said he could not say why Gonzales walked onto the tracks but the investigation is continuing. The incident was called into police at 2:32 p.m. The last period at Amador ended at 3:09 p.m. Students can leave campus earlier on pass if approved by the district office or if their seventh period class was cancelled. Students in that class noted that Gonzales was absent.
Family and peers sought comfort in posting online messages to a Facebook group as well as the Pleasanton Weekly's Town Square forum.
"I went to the candlelight today, and as soon as the lady began to speak Spanish and talk about Evelyn, I broke down in tears," an unidentified sophomore wrote on Town Square Saturday. "Yet, I didn't even know Evelyn. It's so sad to think she felt so alone and felt so unloved she would do this; I hope she's in heaven and that she is happier. My thoughts and prayers go to her family, especially to her mother and father."
"I always saw u at lunch and you always looked soo happy with your friends... I was soo sad to hear about what happened to you. I hope you are happier now...I'm soo sorry to the family. I hope everyone is doing alright," wrote Brianne Isabelle Becker on Facebook.
Resources provided by the school district include the 24-hour Crisis Support Center, which can be reached at 1-800-309-2131, or the nonprofit website, www.suicide.org.