** Content warning: This article deals with the topic of suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide:
- Call the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or
- Text 4HOPE to 741741 to speak to a crisis counselor
Tamia and Timothy Woods said they want children to be able to talk openly with their parents when they’re in crisis. They also want parents to know the circumstances of their son’s death, so they can protect their children from the predators targeting teens online — like those who targeted their son before his death.
James Woods died by suicide on Saturday, Nov. 19. He was 17, a senior in Streetsboro City Schools and a member of the cross-country team.
What is sextortion?
In sextortion crimes, criminals claim to have revealing photos or video of the victim and threaten to share them with others unless the victim sends more pictures or performs sexual acts on camera, reads the statement from Streetsboro officials. Often, the criminals are adults posing as same-aged peers.
“Sextortion is typically performed by people unknown by the students, and oftentimes by people living overseas who are virtually untraceable,” reads the officials’ statement. “Sextortion is a nationwide epidemic, with suicide unfortunately being the end result in multiple instances.”
About 60% of the time, the victims know their extorters, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. They could be a current or former romantic partner. In other instances, they may be lone actors or “a coordinated group of extorters who work together to target and elicit explicit content from their victims,” according to the center.
Not only was Woods a victim of sextortion, but more Streetsboro teens are being targeted by similar predators, officials said Tuesday.
“The Woods family, through their incredible strength, ‘wants to ensure that this does not happen to other families. Please talk to your children and make sure you know what is going on with them,'” reads the release. “Our greatest fear at this point is that our community suffers another tragedy.
“Despite the grief taking place, the Woods family was very clear in their message that they want to communicate: ‘Educate! We want to educate families about sextortion, and we want to encourage all families to make sure they are checking their kids’ social media accounts and making sure they are staying safe!'”
Suicide contagion — what parents should know
Suicides can increase the likelihood of other suicides in the same school, community or geographic area — what’s known as “suicide contagion,” according to Headspace, an Australian government-funded mental health organization.
The people most at-risk include those who witnessed the death or had contact with the person shortly before their death; those who can relate to the deceased person through cultural connections or shared experiences; as well as their close family and friends, according to Headspace.
“Suicide is a complicated act with a variety of causes. When discussing this with your family, it is important to discourage talk about how the suicide happened and focus on how your child feels,” reads the statement from Streetsboro officials. “Each person copes with grief differently; the most important thing is to promote healthy conversations with your children during this difficult time.”
The school district and city police department plan to collaborate on new education for district parents and students “about not only sextortion, but other mental health topics pertinent to raising a child in today’s world,” reads the release.
“It is our hope that in sharing the message, we open up the lines of communication between children, parents, educators and police,” Wain is quoted in a separate statement.
“One child lost is too many.”
Mental health support and resources
24 Hour Resources:
- National Crisis Hotline: Dial 988
- National Textline: Text “4HOPE” to 741741 — A text response back may take five minutes or so
The Trevor Project Lifelines (LGBTQ+ mental health support):
- Text “START” to 678-678 — You’ll be connected to a Trevor counselor who is understanding of LGBTQ issues and won’t judge you. All of your messages are anonymous, and you can share as much or as little as you like. If you end up waiting, try a calming exercise to help you breathe and focus. Or check out the LGBTQ Resource Center for helpful articles and information.
Local supports and resources:
- 5982 Rhodes Road, Kent
- Offers 24/7 crisis intervention and stabilization; psychiatry; individual, children and group
- 771 N. Freedom St., Ravenna
- Offers children and adolescent psychiatry; individual, family and group
- 155 N. Water St., Kent
- Offers 24/7 crisis helpline; individual, group and adolescents
- 2275 State Route 59, Kent
- Offers individual and group counseling for grief — loss from accidental overdose, suicide, and murder, parent and child loss