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By Andi Bourne

Say Something Assembly Follow-up

Ask the Deputy


SEELEY LAKE – Missoula County Sheriff's Office Deputy Mike Sunderland was pleased with the turnout and participation for the Say Something Assemblies at Seeley Lake Elementary (SLE) Jan. 17. He is excited about the upcoming Phlight Club at SLE Feb. 2-3 and looks forward to following up with students and parents in the near future.

"We can't just let the conversation die," said Sunderland. "It is still a community issue and as a community we all have to keep the conversation going with our kids."

Sunderland said that last week there were two reported, 10-year-old females that killed themselves in the United States. One did it while live streaming on Facebook. The other in New Mexico felt the only way out of her situation of being sold to men by her mother was to end her life.

"It really, really irritates me," said Sunderland. "As a community we need to embrace our kids and we need them to understand that it is okay to talk about this issue and support them."

Sunderland said there were two students who came forward following the assembly and said they were having suicidal thoughts. He also said the assembly made some of the students that have been bullying others very emotional.

"It made them realize that hey, this behavior is not acceptable and maybe I shouldn't be doing this," said Sunderland.

In the state of Montana there are no bullying laws. The administrators and the teachers often have to navigate any problems because law enforcement's hands are tied unless it crosses over to assault or disorderly conduct.

Since the assembly, Sunderland said he's been talking with the students who participated. He said that many have said suicide is easier to talk about. He is excited for the Phlight Club this week that will reaffirm some of the same principles of working together and identifying key adults as anchors in the students' lives.

"It's a great thing that we were able to do the assembly, get everybody kind of thinking about it and now they get to move into a structured program," said Sunderland.

Sunderland said he and Lowell Hochhalter would like to continue to work with SLE. After discussing the options with Superintendent Chris Stout and Behavior Support Coordinator Angela Harris, Sunderland would like to return to the classrooms in a few more weeks and touch base with the students to reaffirm the Say Something message and answer any questions.

"This isn't a one-hit wonder. We are serious about this," said Sunderland. "If anyone has an issue and they don't feel comfortable talking to the school they can call me anytime [406-531-0766]. If I don't have an answer, I will certainly find out to the best of my ability and get back to them."

Sunderland said he would love to present the program at Seeley-Swan High School and the other schools throughout the county. They are working through the approval process with Missoula County Public Schools.

"Thank you from the Sheriff's Office and the Say Something Assembly to all the students and community members for attending, being a part of the assemblies, being positive and [being] open minded."


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