BILLINGS - A 13-year-old Laurel Middle School student died by suicide Tuesday, according to his pastor, leaving the community saddened and struggling to prevent other possible incidents.
Sam Meling was found Tuesday at his home in Laurel and was later pronounced dead, Pastor Greg Payton of The Rock Church in Laurel said Thursday afternoon.
Police are investigating the case but do not suspect foul play, said Cliff Mahoney, Yellowstone County’s deputy coroner.
On Wednesday night, the church held a community memorial for Sam, attended by about 200 people.
“The mood was very, very somber,” Payton said, adding that parents Todd and Debi Meling asked him to speak to a reporter on their behalf.
Laurel Superintendent Tim Bronk said staff and students are “still reeling from the loss” of Meling, who was an eighth-grader. In a prepared statement, he said counselors have been made available to students.
“Our thoughts are prayers continue to be with the Meling family during this difficult time. Additional counselors were brought in to help students and staff process their emotions and feelings,” Bronk wrote.
“We will continue to support and assist our students and staff as they work through grieving the loss of one of their own. Again, we want to extend our sincere condolences to the Meling family,” he added.
Montana had 243 recorded suicides in 2014 — about 20 per month — a rate of 23.8 per 100,000 people, the highest in the United States, according to a report from the Suicide Mortality Review Team, a seven-member group appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock in 2013.
Payton said the community is launching an effort to talk about the problem of teen suicide. An online Facebook group called Step In is a forum for discussion about suicide, bullying, mental health issues and other related factors.
“The purpose of this is to encourage kids, at the base level … to step in,” Payton said.
“We have to stop this now. My heart just aches at how many are feeling the same pain that Sam felt and not telling anybody,” he added.