SCHERERVILLE | The family of a former Lake Central High School student who died last week as a result of suicide appreciates the outpouring of love and support, his father said.
Larry Doss said more than 300 people attended the funeral Saturday, including friends, teachers, students and administrators. The family was proud of the students.
"It was the most awesome funeral we could have had," he said. "Together, we're strong. We're holding onto the good memories. That helps you to move on. There were good times and bad times. He's in a better place now. We don't want his death to be glorified in any way or manner. We just wanted him to be respected."
Doss said he was disappointed in the way administrators handled the sit-in last week. More than 200 students conducted a sit-in to protest Lake Central High School administrators not mentioning the teen's death and allowing a moment of silence to honor him.
"The students just wanted him to be respected like other students who died were respected whether they were in school at the time or had graduated," Doss said.
Lake Central school leaders did not return a Times call Monday for comment.
Michael Doss' suicide March 27 was followed by the suicide of another Lake Central High School student April 2.
Suicide has been the second-leading cause of death for young Hoosiers between ages 15 and 24 since 2009, according to the Indiana Youth Institute, in its April brief. In a national survey that included 43 states, Indiana also has the nation's highest rate of students who have contemplated suicide, at 19 percent, and the country's second-highest rate of high school students who have attempted suicide, at 11 percent.
Doss said his son was on the Lake Central football team for three years, and gave it "150 percent." He said his son enjoyed working on cars and trucks and loved to take things apart and put them together.
"He always worked, whether it was on roofing or some other kind of work. He was not lazy," Doss said. "He had a girlfriend and he was very attached to her. He was happy-go-lucky most of the time. I couldn't figure out for the life of me how this could have happened."
Larry Doss said Michael was actually the son of his son, who died from medical complications in 1998. Doss said Michael has a brother and sister and a half-sister. He said after his son's death, he lost track of his grandchildren for a few years and Michael was in and out of foster homes. In 2007, the three were adopted by Larry Doss and his family.
Doss said Michael turned 18 in December. He said the teen wanted to be get his own place. He said Michael withdrew from Lake Central High School in February and transferred to a school in Lafayette. Doss said the teen had his own apartment and was helping the landlord make repairs in lieu of rent. He said the teen often came back to the region to visit.
"He was here four days before his death," Larry Doss said. "He came to borrow some tools from me. He actually drove back and forth frequently, because he came to see his girlfriend .... I didn't think he was really ready to move out. It's a tough world out there. We helped him as much as we could. He wanted to be on his own and prove that he could do it."
Doss said he has talked to Michael's younger brother, a freshman at Lake Central about his brother's death.
"There were a lot of things he didn't understand. We've all talked to him including the counselors and teachers, and they offered to help him with anything he needs," Doss said.
Doss said he always made time to talk to his son and make sure he was OK. "That's why this doesn't make a lot of sense. He must have had some things bottled up inside, possibly some personal issues, one of the few things that would ever upset him," Doss said.
Social worker Britta Neinast, of Valparaiso, said suicide is a sensitive issue and schools have to be careful about how it's approached.
"We don't want to ignore it, but we have to be careful so we don't have copycat suicide behavior," she said.
J.T. Coopman, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, said suicide is hard on students, teachers and the school community.
"Every school district is required to have a certified school security person, that's different from a school resource officer," he said. "The district develops a crisis management plan that deals with anything from an intruder in the building to a suicide."
Lorna Hecker, of the Purdue University Calumet Marriage and Family Therapy program, said depression is a risk factor in suicide. She suggested people look for sudden changes in grades, feelings of hopelessness or substance abuse. She said firearms in the home is another risk factor.
Indiana Youth Institute President and CEO Bill Stanczykiewicz said suicide often occurs in groups.
"A child who is considering it takes it to the next step," he said. "Unfortunately, as the word gets out, other kids consider it. We need to be fully engaged with our kids and make sure they know they are loved."