Train victim, 17, was Palo Alto student

Shock of second student suicide within a month hits Gunn High School community

A 17-year-old girl who ended her life Tuesday night at a Caltrain crossing was identified Wednesday by friends as Sonya Raymakers, a senior at Gunn High School who had been accepted at New York University for next fall.

Shock spread through the Gunn and Palo Alto school community as word spread of the death when she stepped in front of a northbound train at 9:55 p.m. at the West Meadow Drive crossing.

The girl reportedly left a note.

Gunn High School Principal Noreen Likins sent an email to the Gunn community Wednesday morning.

"The loss of this student has hit our community very hard. What for seniors is usually a joyous time of celebration has turned into a time of sadness. This is usually the most stressful time of the school year for students as they get ready for final examinations," Likins wrote.

She said that the entire counseling staff has been made available to support grieving students and staff members.

"Recognizing that many students will not be able to concentrate on school work at this time, teachers will be as flexible and supportive as they can be to ensure that we get our students through to the end of the school year safely and successfully," Likins wrote.

She concluded: "Please reassure your student that their health and welfare is much more important than anything else right now. We stand ready to help and support you in any way we can in the difficult task of helping students navigate these teen years."

Raymakers was heavily involved in theater, working in costume design, and for years had been involved in creative writing. She won first place in the Palo Alto Weekly's annual short story contest for her tale "Nighthawk" when she was in the sixth grade at JLS Middle School.

The Oracle, Gunn's student newspaper, featured her in an article published March 16 about how she designed her own clothes and jewelry.

Her Facebook page lists nearly 370 friends.

Trains were halted in both directions for more than an hour until one was allowed through slowly, heading north on the southbound track, after 11 p.m. A southbound passenger train was allowed through at a moderate speed shortly before midnight, as a soft rain began to fall in large drops.

The crossing is where "JP" Blanchard, 17-year-old Gunn student, died in an apparent suicide May 5, a day after a 29-year-old woman, Heather Russell, sat down in front of a train some distance south.

"I am completely shocked and speechless," Philippe Rey, executive director of the Adolescent Counseling Service, which provides counseling for Palo Alto area students and young persons, said of Sonya's death.

Rey said he met briefly with Palo Alto school Superintendent Kevin Skelly today and "all either of us could do was stand there an look down at the ground -- we didn't know what to say."

— Palo Alto Weekly staff


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Posted by Terrie
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 3, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I am saddened to hear of loss of this young woman. With the pressures going on in society lately familes hearts are all heavy with burden and worries. I work in a crisis department and know to well what the pressures can be on our youth today!
My heart goes out to this girls family and loved ones as they grieve over such a huge loss.

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Posted by Rick Hyde
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 3, 2009 at 9:51 pm

CalTrain already divides our neighborhoods. HSR funds could be used to make these grade crossings safer by positively isolating people and traffic from rail. Let us not loose this opportunity to stop these needless deaths.

Rick Hyde
Mountain View

Like this comment
Posted by M.L..
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:42 pm

I feel sad for the families but also the train engineer. 3 suicides in 1 month

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Posted by Charles Thompson
a resident of Castro City
on Jun 4, 2009 at 2:53 am

Do you know that there was a rail fatality on Memorial Day in Sunnyvale? An elderly man intent on committing suicide near the Home Depot parking lot in Sunnyvale, walked onto the Caltrain tracks and was struck by a northbound train? He was transported to Stanford Hospital where he died of a head injury.

How come Caltrain did not notify the press of this incident. Are they trying to hide something? Is Christine Dunn trying to hide something? What goes on at Caltrain...

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Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Jun 4, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Rick, I am absolutely appalled that someone would use this terrible, terrible tragedy as an opportunity to push an agenda.

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Posted by don davis
a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 4, 2009 at 2:30 pm

agree with eric. money for "anti-suicide" construction is wasteful. i cringe everytime i hear about suicide barriers on the GG bridge and other places. i feel terrible for the families who lose loved ones, but let's face it. people intent on killing themselves are going to find a way. if we're going to put public money anywhere, put it into suicide prevention or other social programs to help stop the implulse to end one's life too soon.

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Posted by tmwong
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 4, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Charles: You've posted all over creation about an alleged rail fatality in Sunnyvale over Memorial Day, but there's nothing anywhere in the news about it. Do you have anything concrete at all? Certainly, if Caltrain is trying to suppress news about deaths on the line, they're not doing a very good job with at least five deaths over the last six months.

Rick: Even as a supporter of HSR, I'm hard-pressed to see "stop suicides" as a good reason - or even a minor reason - for its construction.

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Posted by Marinette
a resident of another community
on Jun 4, 2009 at 2:38 pm

People take the path of least resistance. Suicide barriers work. Through all the discussion of the barrier for the GGB, it emerged that in locations where suicides were common, once a barrier was installed, they ceased, and the number of suicides dropped. In other words, they did not go off an find another place from which to jump.

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Posted by John
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 4, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Id listen to the words he'd say
But in his voice I heard decay
The plastic face forced to portray
All the insides left cold and gray
There is a place that still remains
It eats the fear it eats the pain
The sweetest price he'll have to pay
The day the whole world went away

Like this comment
Posted by phm
a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 4, 2009 at 4:29 pm

I clicked the link to Sonya's award-winning short story and it's heartbreaking to read her amazing writing as an 11-year-old, and the sidebar about her many other interests and her hopes for the future. As someone who lost a 17-year-old cousin to suicide when I was 16, I send all my love to her family. I know there's nothing harder for a family to endure.

Like this comment
Posted by Luxurious
a resident of Castro City
on Jun 4, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I keep on wondering whether more liberal policies will keep on creating more suicides rates among the best city in the bay area. Many students are failing to see a light at the end of the tunnel. This is spreading into the more affluent neighborhoods where the only complaints these residents make to police, is to enfoce parking issues that can ultimately be solved by using the old fashion way of talking to one another. Suicide is a very atrocious act that will never be justified but this story only gets the local coverage because it is in favor of those that make the laws. I always ponder and wait to see local community activist that bring real changing ideas to the local community. In order for us to get along with each other, we must do what puts fear into our minds. Shake a strangers hand and you will notice that people have good hearts.

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Posted by Rez
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 4, 2009 at 9:35 pm

I wonder if the train conductors and first on scene responders came forward and spoke about how an act like this affects them. They have to live with the horrorible image of seeing this happen. It is severely unfair to them. Suicide is a very selfish act, especially when the person chooses to drag so many people down into their dark moment. I am so sorry for all the family and friends of this girl. I do not wish to put blame on her because she was suffering from a very deadly disease: depression. I just wish that someone could speak up about the other people who are psychologically injured by this. Perhaps that could make another person think more before they chose this form of suicide.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Worldallwrong
a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Please tell me what is wrong with the world today, I've lived here since 1945 and never heard of such a tragic scenario.

Like this comment
Posted by singh
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 7, 2009 at 9:48 am

I asked my 22 year old son.......

What is going on?

Why is this happening all of a sudden?

He shook his head and said, "I don't know".

All High School kids need counseling. It should become a mandatory class. Replace history classes with counseling classes. Who cares what happened 1000 years ago. We should care about our youth and what is happening NOW.



They need to learn what the alternatives can be.


Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2009 at 9:53 am

What we need to understand with schools like Paly and Gunn, two of the most prestigious school in the country, comes with alot of pressure. These students are preparing for their life careers, and the pressure comes from all ends. Teachers, Parents, and especially themselves. Instead of children having to come to the parents all the time, parents need to talk MORE with their kids. Check in with them to see how they're doing. You'd be suprised at the reactions you may get.
Parents, please talk to your children!!

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