Education

A popular Oakmont sophomore died. Then students lost another schoolmate a day later.

Oakmont High School student Neal Desai died Oct. 22, 2016.
Oakmont High School student Neal Desai died Oct. 22, 2016.

A Roseville school superintendent said Thursday that counselors, chaplains and other professionals are helping Oakmont High students deal with their grief over the deaths of two popular classmates under unrelated circumstances a day apart last week.

Camy Smith, a 15-year-old sophomore, died Friday after a months-long fight with leukemia.

Neal Desai, a 17-year-old senior, died Saturday. A close friend of the family said the cause of death is not yet known.

Close to 700 students at the Roseville campus gathered before school Monday after one student urged classmates via social media to meet for a moment of silence at the flagpole. Other schools in the region created and signed posters and sent cards and flowers to Oakmont.

“Both students were very well liked and well known around the campus, and that made it very difficult because there were so many students who were closely connected to the kids,” said Oakmont Principal Rob Hasty on Thursday.

“There were support mechanisms all over campus for the first couple of days. Initially there were grief rooms,” he added. Students “could write letters to either one of the families or they could write down their thoughts to talk to a school counselor or any staff.”

Roseville Joint Union High School District Superintendent Ron Severson, who has worked in the district for 22 years, said classmates grieve in different ways after any student’s death.

This time, he said, “we had two really different sorts of scenarios,” he said. “So kids who have been processing the young lady’s situation with leukemia for the last six to eight months were much better prepared than the kids who saw this young man on Friday and then discovered over the weekend he was no longer going to be around.”

This is a bone-chilling reality check. We need to take care of each other.

Ron Severson, superintendent of the Roseville Joint Union High School District

He said the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and Roseville Police Department provided chaplains. Marriage and family interns came to Oakmont. Social workers were available along with intervention counselors who work with grief.

Based on social media, he said, school officials recognized they would need a large-scale response. The school has about 1,900 students in grades nine through 12.

“I have two kids of my own,” Severson added as he recalled the encounter. “Trying to imagine the pain and sorrow and emptiness you have got to feel, it’s just unfathomable.”

He said the district is working with both families “to make sure we’re doing everything we can.” But he called the experience brutal.

“In Roseville, we don’t have to deal with the harshness of life that often,” he said. “This is a harsh situation that is visceral. It makes everyone step back and really think of what’s important in life and what isn’t.

“This is a bone-chilling reality check. We need to take care of each other.”

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