STILLWATER — Hugs, counseling and tears were part of the day Thursday at Stillwater Junior High School as students coped with the suicide of a classmate a day earlier.
Cade Poulos, 13, shot himself in the head with a handgun in a school hallway about 10 minutes before class began Wednesday morning. Students were locked into classrooms and then bused to a nearby strip mall while police assessed the scene.
The focus when students returned Thursday was on beginning the healing process, not curriculum, school officials said. Students were free to leave class to talk to counselors or leave messages of support for the family on banners.
Police were continuing their investigation into the suicide at the school of 767 eighth- and ninth-grade students. Poulos did not leave a suicide note. There was no indication any other students were ever at risk, Capt. Randy Dickerson said.
He declined to discuss where Poulos got the handgun.
The act stunned the community and drew national attention to the university town of about 46,000 people 65 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.
Dickerson said he spent much of his time Thursday talking to dozens of media outlets to dispel rumors that persist on social media sites. Officers were needed to direct traffic at the school because media trucks blocked access Thursday morning, he said.
Detectives have not uncovered a problem with bullying, despite numerous social media posts that attribute the death to bullying. The school has no record that the boy was bullied.
Stillwater Schools Superintendent Ann Caine said Thursday she had talked with Poulos' family.
“It is definitely not due to bullying,” Caine said the family told her.
“Everyone's talking about how well-liked he was. The hard thing is, any time there's a tragedy and since bullying is the current national buzz word, people are quick to say, ‘This must be due to bullying.' But obviously, there are other reasons why a tragedy like this happens.”
She declined to elaborate.
Students dressed as superheroes Wednesday for cancer awareness week, but Poulos was not wearing a costume at the time of his death, Dickerson said.
“He was wearing jeans and a dark-colored, button-down shirt that was unbuttoned with a T-shirt underneath,” Dickerson said.
Numerous agencies from the community offered counseling for students, faculty and staff, Caine said. People stopped by the school to offer food and prayers for staff.
The mood was somber Thursday morning, as students streamed past the site of Poulos' death and traded hugs. A special cleaning crew visited the school overnight; there was no sign any tragedy occurred there.
Ninth-grade student Autumn Farnes, 14, attended school but not class Thursday. She and her friends first visited an area called “the pit,” where students hang out or pray in the morning. Poulos died nearby.
She and her friends sat there and cried. They also prayed together over the spot of Poulos' death.
Although she did not know Poulos, she created a Facebook memorial page that captured almost 20,000 “likes” in just over a day because “I wanted to show my respect,” she said.
“It's heartbreaking that he took his own life,” Farnes said.
Others couldn't face the school Thursday. About 115 students were absent, about double the normal number of absences, Caine said.
More than 120 family, friends and Stillwater residents attended a prayer service Wednesday night hosted by Highland Park United Methodist Church, the Tulsa World reported.
Landon Horner wanted Poulos' family to know he always would remember his friend and that lots of prayers are being directed their way, he told the paper. “A lot of people are praying for you,” he said. “My prayers are with you.”