04/13/2011 11:37 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Stop: There Is Life Beyond the Tracks

The voices are getting louder now.

They're getting louder than the thunderous waves that crash on the beaches of Manasquan, Long Branch, Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights, N.J. in the middle of a Nor'easter. They're louder than the voices on that MTV show that co-opted the Jersey Shore name.

Four accidents in a week. Six dead in three years. Three of them were suicides -- another one is possible.

These tragedies on the Jersey Coast rail tracks were once thought to be isolated and independent. Now the grief counselors in Manasquan and elsewhere in the Jersey Shore are using words like "trend" and "copycat" to describe the disturbing pattern of death and pain.

They're doing it not so much out of fear, but more out of caution. After a 17-year-old boy was killed on the Long Branch tracks last week, they warned the media: Be careful, because this could happen again.

On Saturday, it did: A 19-year-old Point Pleasant Borough woman died in Spring Lake after weaving around the downed gate, and stopping her car on the tracks..

The latest incident was this morning, on Tuesday, when a woman was struck on the Asbury Park tracks.

The voices online are getting louder, too. They're posting on Facebook, offering their condolences, and venting their helplessness. "So sad," some write. "So young," write others.

Others, including the opinions voiced by professionals, have veered into the realm of analysis, and even problem-solving.

Many of them have wondered aloud: Is there a link? They've asked, even as they said it with a bit of trepidation, knowing that any link could encourage more.

Each of them seem to be saying, one after another, the same repetitive desperate plea:


Stop, and move on. There is no glamor in death. There is nothing heroic about taking your own life.

Stop, and look for help before doing anything that can be harmful, and not just to you, but also others.

Among those voices are the crisis counselors from Manasquan High School. They have actively engaged the media, asking that it reconsider photos, details and other information that could act as "triggers" for such behavior.

In the Manasquan area, the feelings about trains and tragedy are very raw. Two years ago, a 17-year-old Spring Lake Heights kid was struck just minutes before he was supposed to be sitting in his homeroom seat at Manasquan High School.

Between January 2008 and October 2009, four Manasquan-area kids were killed by a train. Then, on April 1, Long Branch resident Christian Butler, 17, was struck and killed by a train while lying on the tracks near Chelsea Avenue.

His case is being investigated as a possible suicide, though no ruling has been made.

On April 4, a 15-year-old Long Branch boy had his hand pinned under a train south of Cedar Avenue. NJ Transit said the boy was walking home from school at the time and was merely taking a shortcut.

Some who have analyzed the tragedies -- from mental health professionals to the ordinary citizen -- have complained about a shortage of alternatives and services for young people in need. They've decried state and federal governments for turning a blind eye toward mental health.

But Denise Wegemen, a Manasquan High School grief counselor, and others shudder at the notion that there is not enough help. If anything, they want people to believe that there is a place to turn. They've worked too hard for three years, trying to get people to think before they act.

They want people to think that the final solution comes in a phone call, not on a wayward drive to the North Jersey Coast Line.

Those places to turn are local, and they are national:

* The National Suicide Hotline, at 1-800-SUICIDE. Also, a Monmouth County youth helpline is available through 180-TURNAROUND AT 888-222-2228.
* A program for teens at The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide.
* Manasquan High School website called "Friends Helping Friends."
* A 24-hour pyschiatric emergency number at Monmouth Medical Center at 732-923-6999.

The grief counselors and the mental health professionals know that suicide is one of the leading causes of death among teens. That's why they've worked with the media, and worked successfully with news organizations in trying to stop the glorifying of suicides through photos and words.

They're working hard to get people to stop, and look around, and realize there are other places to go.

There is life beyond the tracks.

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