Student's Death Opens Old Wounds
Community reels after Mantua teen kills himself.
Neighbors, classmates and friends knew Nick Stuban as a talented athlete, an easy person to connect and build a long-lasting friendship with, and a bacon connoisseur.
Nick would "take over the kitchen after school or for sleepovers and cook bacon. (His bacon was the best and we always kept a pound for him.)," Sandy and Frank Jablonski from Annandale wrote on Nick's tribute site.
Donna Chapman served alongside Nick's mother as an Army nurse in Hawaii when Nick was born on April 7, 1995.
"I saw Nick on the day he was born--just a scrawny little thing!" she wrote. "On those many times I saw him... I can remember boundless energy, a big smile, a bright mind and a head of curls!"
For those who never knew him, these messages leave a heart-wrenching and painfully shallow look at the triumphs and sorrows that made up this loved young man's life.
The 15-year-old Mantua sophomore was found dead of an apparent suicide at his home on Thursday.
Nick's last months were troubling. The Washington Post reported that a fall disciplinary action led to Stuban's suspension from Woodson High School. Stuban transferred to Fairfax High School.
Little is public about why Nick's disciplinary hearing was called or why the teen switched schools.
For the Fairfax community, the 15-year-old's apparent suicide unearthed old wounds.
Joshua Anderson, a 17-year-old Vienna student, committed suicide on March 18, 2009, a day before he was likely to be expelled from county schools. He was ousted from Langley High School after a baggie of marijuana was found in his backpack. Josh completed drug treatment and SAFE programs and started over as a probationary student at South Lakes High School.
He seemed to be doing well at South Lakes. It didn't take long for the friendly teenager to make a new group of friends and show off his skills on the football field. And then he made another mistake.
"Being a teenage boy, the link between action and consequence is intermittent, at best," his mother, Sue Anderson wrote in the family's blog, Remembering Josh. "Maybe because things were going so well, he subconsciously let his guard down and got careless."
Josh and a friend drove to Taco Bell and smoked a joint during their lunch break. When they pulled into the school parking lot and got out of the car a South Lakes assistant principal smelled marijuana. A vehicle search turned up a small amount of marijuana and a smoking piece.
His family turned to a lawyer this time, hoping for an edge on the FCPS disciplinary process.
The outlook was grim. Josh's lawyer expected the county's hearing office to expel her client, preventing Josh from finishing his high school career in any county school. There weren't many options. Josh could go to a private or military school. Maybe he could just go for a GED. Would he be welcome at a school in another county? Or, if he somehow wasn't expelled, he could be stuck with either an alternative school or a computer-based learning program.
"He rode back home with me [after the meeting with the lawyer] and it was a quiet ride," Sue wrote. "He just put his seat back and looked out of the window. In hindsight, I should have told him, 'no matter what, we will get through this.' Why didn't I do this?"
The family's blog shares memories of Josh's life and wonders what could have been had their experiences with the expulsion process been different.
Fairfax County says all students have a right to a safe learning environment. School policy outlines disciplinary action meant to deter students from participating in potentially harmful activities.
A student found with marijuana or any other controlled substance, for instance, will be suspended for anywhere from five to 10 days and barred from all school activities for 30 days. A second offense carries at least 10 days suspension and a recommendation for expulsion.
Parents wonder if the policies are too strict; if they come down too hard on individual students in hopes of keeping other students out of harm's way.
"It felt as if we had been placed on this fast moving train and we could not do anything to stop it," Sue wrote. "We felt completely helpless and at the mercy of, in our opinion, a very large, bureaucratic organization, with little or no compassion or concern for the well-being of our son."
Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform arose from stories like that told by Josh's family. FTZR is a group of parents and teachers working to promote more transparency, accountability and community involvement in the FCPS discipline process. The group advocates for more student rights and fairer punishments. Their argument: Zero-tolerance is a harsh, one-size-fits-all reaction to a complex problem.
Was Josh a danger to his fellow students? His parents post this excerpt from his statement to the county.
"And I have been working hard at this, I can't believe I'm putting my parents through this now. They don't deserve this at all. I can't believe how selfish and stupid I've been. I really have been working on this I've been through the private counseling group and I've seen a psychiatrist regularly. I got extremely lazy and stupid. I've fully realized what has happened and what we are going to have to go through and I'm honestly going to try my hardest to fix this, help my parents, they haven't raised me to be like this in any way, I'm so scared for the future, this wasn't worth any of it at all. I've only recently been thinking I could make college football and I've gotten so excited about it and now everything's ruined and it wasn't worth it in any way."
Was Nick thinking along the same lines as he and his family were making their way through FCPS' disciplinary channels?
No one knows why Nick killed himself.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says suicide results from a number of causes, with mental illness (especially mood disorders, depression) being the most common. Outside influences, like stressful events, feelings of hopelessness and substance abuse, don't help.
He could've been dealing with any number of relationship, family, financial and personal troubles outside of his experience with FCPS' disciplinary process. Understanding why will take time. Even Josh's motives make more sense after almost a year of hindsight.
Nick's family invites friends to honor his life at a service at Bethlehem Lutheran Church (8922 Little River Turnpike) from 6-7 p.m. Monday.
"I remember from the day I first met Nick as a toddler in Hawaii through the years after the family moved to Virginia that he was always on the run, always wanting to share in every toy and game he had, and always blubbling over with energy and smiles. His hugs nearly popped me in two. His smile will never be forgotten.
Posted by Laurie Davis from Olympia, WA - friend of Sandy's and Steve's on January 22, 2011.
The first time I had ever met Nick was at some lame parent party my mom dragged me along with her. I had no idea who he was when I first saw him except that both him and I went to frost. We hung out through the night barely knowing each other’s names and only knowing we went to the same school. From that day on he and I had really connected throughout the years I knew him I found myself playing with him on the freshman football team and JV team. The one thing I remember most about freshman football is we were defeated till... the last game of the season when Nick was playing running back and I remember he broke a huge run and when he got back to the sideline he had the biggest smile in the world and I said that was an amazing run and he looked at me with a grin and said "That run right there was for you and this team." That is the only thing I remember from that night. For the years I knew him and I became best friends. I’m sorry it had to end so soon. Nick will always be in my heart... and in the heart of Woodson football.
Posted by Joe Carter from Fairfax, VA - Friend/Team Mate on January 23, 2011"