Skyline High School senior Maggie Jones approached her mother, Adele Jones, in their Mesa home on Labor Day.
Something wasn’t right.
The teen, with long mocha-brown hair, fair skin and crystal blue eyes, was crying. She told her mom she was feeling depressed.
Her mother knew Maggie had been struggling with her mental health for about a year now, but today felt more urgent.
“She looked different,” said Adele. “She was crying and wouldn’t let me hug her – she would always at least take a hug.”
Adele told Maggie that she would seek out a therapist right away.
But Maggie never gave herself the time to receive that care.
The girl described by her mother as “a beautiful young woman who loved to help others” had logged onto Twitter the following day, posting a series of tweets to her 114 followers outlining the depths of her despair.
One tweet read, “i love how nobody cares even when they know how suicidal you are.” Another stated, “this is the hardest thing I have ever [expletive] done… it’s all wrong.”
On Sept. 4, she fatally shot herself.
She was 17.
Maggie’s death was the 36th East Valley teenager lost to suicide since July 2017. Two other teens – Anthony Neff, 17, of Gilbert and a Mesa boy – took their lives within eight days after her death.
Anthony, a Desert Ridge High School senior, was a friend of Maggie and his death was acknowledged by Skyline High administrators, who told staff that the two high schools' "students and families intersect through our shared community."
Ironically, the suicides occurred within a 10-day period that included Gov. Doug Ducey’s Sept. 11 signing of a law requiring all school personnel to receive suicide prevention training starting in the 2020-21 school year.
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Sean Bowie of Ahwatukee, whose district includes parts of Tempe, Chandler and Mesa, in direct response to the rash of teen suicides in the region. Bowie won support of two Chandler legislators, Sen. J.D. Mesnard and Rep Jeff Weninger, to win unanimous approval of the measure in the Legislature; Weninger’s teenage son had a friend who also had taken his life.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, one person dies by suicide in Arizona every seven hours. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death for ages 15 to 34.
“Every single one of those individuals needed help and we need to respond to any suicide with a response that creates the conditions under which all individuals recognize they are not alone,” said Aaron Krasnow, Arizona State University associate vice president of health and counseling services.
“They are not a burden to others, their pain is manageable, he said. “They can be supported and there are choices available to them.”
Krasnow also said it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact reason for the teen suicide crisis.
The suicide prevention foundation says there is no single cause, but that feelings of hopelessness and despair can eventually prompt a person to take their life.
During the days leading up to Maggie’s senior year, her mother recalled, the teen frequently talked about how she didn’t want to move out.
Maggie lived alone with her parents while the rest of her seven older siblings live out of state.
“She wanted to live with us forever,” said Adele. “She would always talk about how apartments are so expensive, so I don’t know if getting closer to knowing that was coming had anything to do with it.”
Born in Indiana, Maggie moved to Arizona with her parents when she was 5.
She loved traveling and talked of becoming a flight attendant one day.
“She was such a happy girl,” said Adele. “She loved to go to California to see our friends and she got to do so much and she saw so much – she loved to travel.”
In 9th and 10th grade, Maggie pursued her passion for the arts, participating in Skyline’s stained-glass classes.
When she wasn’t in school, she worked as a trainer at Peter Piper Pizza.
Adele, who did not have access to Maggie’s social media accounts, said she never saw the warning signs.
“She told us she was depressed at times,” said Adele. “But I think people like myself, that don’t suffer from depression, don’t realize how it can take over and how deep.”
“I don’t understand it, but it’s real,” she added. Looking back, Adele said she wishes she had been given more information from the school about what to look out for and how to handle the signs.
One of the biggest indicators, says the Association for Suicide Prevention, is a change in behavior, especially when related to a painful event, loss or change.
Other warning signs include increased use of alcohol or drugs, isolating from family and friends, sleeping too much or too little, fatigue and aggression.
Several of Maggie’s friends said she often showed up at school crying -- but would “snap out of it” when the bell rang.
“She would show up to school upset and would go to class crying,” said Skyline senior Emily McDonald. “But immediately she would stop when class started.”
Anissa Guerra, another close friend, recalled similar situations.
But both teens described Maggie as a bubbly person that everyone wanted to be around.
“She was the greatest person,” said Anissa. “She was always energetic and she was a light in people’s world -- no matter what was going on in her life.
“She was always there for you,” she added.
When it came to confronting Maggie’s tweets, Anissa and Emily faced a common dilemma.
They explained suicidal posts have become commonplace on social media, and that it’s hard to tell when someone is being serious.
“A lot of people will do something by accident and be like, ‘oh, kill me,’ or even in texts they’ll say ‘KMS’ for ‘kill myself,” said Anissa. “It’s just a cultural thing, honestly I can’t say why, it’s just how our generation is growing up.”
Then came the fear of “snitching.”
Depression, especially when undiagnosed, is the most common condition associated with suicide.
While Krasnow said he doesn’t necessarily believe that today’s teenagers are experiencing more trying emotions than in the past, the presence of social media has complicated many teens’ lives.
“Social media has the incredible power to connect people at a distance, and that can have enormously positive impacts for some people,” he said. “The converse of that is it can create an echo chamber in which certain thoughts or feelings are only reflected back as confirmed or disconfirmed.”
“I’m not in the camp to blame it for this [suicide],” he continued. “But I’m also not going to let it off the hook.”
Katey McPherson, a Chandler education consultant and suicide prevention activist who has been monitoring teen suicides in the East Valley for the past few years, agreed with Krasnow and said the cluster of suicides in the region could be stemming from a myriad of factors.
“We’ve got deterioration of the family unit and we have academic rigor that’s being pushed starting in the fourth grade – there’s a lot of academic pressure that kids have now,” she previously told the Tribune. “I think social media is a piece, but it’s not the only piece.”
Krasnow explained that many teens fear jeopardizing their friendships by telling an adult.
“The commentary is about not trusting adults to respond in a way that is supportive,” he said. “That would not lead to minimizing, or over-responding to. those signals from the teens.”
“We are the adults, it’s not their responsibility to have to navigate all of that,” he continued, adding:
“We need to give them evidence and be constantly talking to them about ‘if you see this, I want you to tell me,’ and don’t just stop there. Also say, ‘here is what I’ll do and here is how I’ll involve you -- what do you think about that?’ make it a conversation.”
Mesa Public Schools is doubling down on its mental health efforts for not only this school year, but years to come.
“Mesa has been working on informing peers about recognizing the signs of suicide and taking every sign as a serious sign,” said Michael Garcia, MPS director of opportunity and achievement.
The Mesa district is forming “peer prevention clubs” to raise awareness about mental health and reduce the stigma surrounding it.
It is also training students how to recognize the signs and put that information into the hands of an adult, he continued.
Since incorporating the clubs a few years ago, the district has seen a rise in students reporting suicidal tendencies in some classmates, Garcia said.
Adele said that she hopes Maggie’s story will help raise awareness and increase resources for struggling teens.
“If I can get the message out and it saves at least one child, then we did good,” said the grieving mother.