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Strength in community: Coalition releases suicide 'postvention' guidebook

Just over a year after participating in training on suicide postvention with nearly 30 other community representatives, Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District Superintendent Heidi Eliopoulos is taking a rare moment to let herself feel pride in the work they did — and hope they never have to use.

“I’m just so — pride is a dangerous emotion because it can get away from you — but I’m very proud of Chippewa Falls. I’m proud of, that a really diverse of people came together and did this really hard work out of love for our community,” Eliopoulos said. “… I’m really proud that we came together and looked at things through a different lens and worked together.”

In October 2017, a group of community officials, including law enforcement, medical and mental health professionals, area educators and local funeral servicers, released a copy of a suicide ‘postvention’ handbook. The guide discusses language, moves and practices for how to react following a suicide in the community.

The guidebook helps groups use proper language and techniques so as to not to negatively impact what Eliopoulos said are “vulnerable populations” of people after suicides.

Just knowing someone who has died by suicide puts someone at risk or in a vulnerable state, Eliopoulos added as an example.

“There is a vulnerable population that we have to protect… Whether the word is contagion or clustering or copycat, that vulnerable population, you want to protect them from that,” Eliopoulos said. “And so it’s everything from the words you use, safe messaging, how the media and social media portrays, what kind of advocacy should we be doing.”

Examples within the guidebook include helping members of the media use proper language when reporting on suicide-related topics and explanation of the best practices for reacting to suicide, such as proactive planning, use of media, providing facts, safe messaging and memorial limitations and suggestions.

Eliopoulos said suicide postvention can serve as prevention against future suicides.

The process in getting the handbook to the community began in August 2016, said Eliopoulos, who is finishing her third year as superintendent of the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District. The group began as a way to start a conversation about suicide and brought together what Eliopoulos described as “key stakeholders.”

Some of those stakeholders included Alan Dunham, youth director at Chippewa Valley Bible Church, and Rhonda Brown, director of 3D Community Health at HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals.

Dunham, Brown and Eliopoulos each said they saw a benefit from connecting with other local agencies and, especially since, Eliopoulos said, suicide is a large issue with no specific target community.

“Suicide is a public health issue that impacts communities all over our country,” Eliopoulos said. “It’s not a school thing, it’s not a funeral home thing, it’s not a mental health thing — it’s all of us. And the best way to prevent suicide is when everyone works together.”

Dunham said Eliopoulos put out the word to local community members about forming the coalition of people to get a better understanding of how each sector responds to suicides and what work could be done moving forward. The gap in services, Eliopoulos said the group found, was postvention and reactionary work.

The group met in August and the fall of 2016, received two-day training in postvention in February 2017 from Ann Duckless, a community educator from New Hampshire’s National Alliance on Mental Illness, and then began creating its handbook, finishing it in October 2017.

Community organizations were able to connect and share their practices and also come together to ensure the book represents what’s best for the community, especially during a time that can leave people feeling unsure about what to do next Dunham said.

“Everybody feels a sense of helplessness in a tragedy of suicide. What can we do,” Dunham said. “…now there’s a specific plan.”

The work that the coalition did is also now being shared with other agencies and communities. Eliopoulos presented the information to the local Cooperative Education Service Agency and said the group would be open to presenting their information to other local agencies and communities.

As for the future of the coalition, Dunham said continuing to meet and develop work surrounding community topics and issues is something the members of the coalition would like to see happen. A topic in particular concerns meth addiction and use and how that impacts families. Dunham said Eliopoulos brought up working on creating more support for fostering and encouraging more homes to welcome foster children.

No matter what topic the group decides to focus on next, Brown said the work being done on a collective level is encouraging.

“(Suicide’s) not an easy issue to work on, and because (groups) typically works so well in our area, it absolutely will be something that we will work on again,” Brown said. “So we’re really fortunate in this community that people do work really well together — especially when it’s a topic or focus area that people are committed to.”

CONTRIBUTED, Barron County Sheriff's Department 

Over 300 marijuana plants were seized from a "sophisticated" growing operation in Comstock Thursday, Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said.

Trump leaves lawmakers hanging on gun priorities

WASHINGTON — In his quest to tackle gun violence, President Donald Trump has ricocheted between calling for tougher laws and declaring his fealty to the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, leaving a trail of befuddled lawmakers and advocates in his wake.

One thing he still has not done: clearly outline his legislative priorities.

Washington’s week closed Friday without further explanation from the president, the White House indicating that for now, at least, he is backing an incremental proposal on background checks and a bill that would provide new federal dollars to stem school violence.

Just what Trump would like to see in the “beautiful” and “comprehensive” bill he called for earlier in the week remained unclear. That comment came at a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers Wednesday, which was quickly followed by a private session with the National Rifle Association on Thursday.

“Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!” Trump tweeted Thursday night.

He had outlined some of his preferences via Twitter earlier Thursday, saying that both good and bad ideas had come out of the bipartisan meeting. He said: “Background Checks a big part of conversation. Gun free zones are proven targets of killers. After many years, a Bill should emerge. Respect 2nd Amendment!”

Amid the confusion, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shelved the gun debate for now, saying the Senate will turn next week to other measures.

Disagreement continues among legislators over the appropriate response after the Florida school shooting that left 17 dead. Republicans have largely backed away from stricter gun limits, while Democrats emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric are pushing for ambitious action, including expanded background checks and even a politically risky ban on assault weapons.

As is often the case, the president has been an unreliable negotiator.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who is a leading advocate of tougher gun laws, predicted on Twitter: “The White House is going to bob and weave on guns. Accept it.”

Still, he added: “Trump’s instinct on this issue is not wrong — if his party doesn’t get behind background checks soon, they’re cooked in 2018 and 2020.” And he argued that Trump’s “willingness to buck the gun lobby in public, rule out the NRA agenda and talk up background checks, has changed this debate nationally.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that Trump supports an limited proposal from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Murphy that would boost participation in the existing federal background check program, as well as a bill that would provide new federal grant funding to stem school violence.

Sanders said Trump had not signed on to a more sweeping background check bill that would require the review of firearm purchases online and at gun shows. The measure, from Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has found new momentum since it was first introduced after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 children dead.

Sanders sought to clarify Trump’s comments earlier in the week expressing support for tougher background checks and interest in raising the minimum age to buy certain weapons. She said he was interested in improving background checks, but “not necessarily universal background checks.” And she said that while Trump “conceptually” supports higher age requirements to purchase certain weapons, “he also knows there’s not a lot of broad support for that.”

The president also wants to use an executive order to bar the use of bump-stock devices that enable guns to fire like automatic weapons.

After Republican anxiety about Trump’s comments seeming to express openness to tougher gun controls, the executive director of the NRA, Chris Cox was positive about their Thursday night meeting. He tweeted that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control.”

As part of Trump’s efforts to consider various responses to gun violence, next week he plans to host members of the video game industry. He has repeatedly referenced the violence in movies and video games during conversations about guns and school safety since the Florida shooting.

Sanders said invitations started going out Thursday, and event details were being finalized. The Entertainment Software Association, a trade group that represents the video game industry, said Friday the group and its members had not been invited.

Nicole Hockley, who lost a child at Sandy Hook, has attended two White House meetings with Trump and said she remained optimistic.

“By listening to President Trump’s words I do feel he is committed to finding a way forward and he is committed to putting a plan together,” she said. “I don’t know what the content will be.”

Associated Press reporters Lisa Mascaro and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.


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Eau Claire officer cleared in fatal shooting

An Eau Claire police officer has been cleared in a fatal shooting last July.

Sgt. Jesse Henning, a nine-year veteran of the department who was promoted to sergeant in January 2016, fatally shot an Eau Claire man in July 2017 after the man refused to cooperate with police and fired a shotgun at officers outside his residence.

Eau Claire County District Attorney Gary King determined the fatal shooting of Michael Caponigro was a justified use of lethal force. La Crosse police investigated the shooting and turned the case over to the DA.

Henning was on administrative leave pending a review of the investigation. He has since been approved to return to the Patrol Division.

“Every attempt was made to resolve the matter peacefully through deliberate crisis intervention measures,” said Eau Claire Police Chief Gerald Staniszewski in a Friday statement. Henning’s actions were “not only justified but were necessary,” Staniszewski said.

According to police:

Someone who knew Caponigro called police, saying Caponigro was make homicidal and suicidal statements. Police went to Caponigro’s residence at 4527 Woodford Court in Eau Claire with two officers arriving at 8:45 p.m.

Caponigro was standing outside, armed with a handgun. He then threatened the officer. He refused to cooperate with police and went into his residence.

The Crisis Negotiations Team and the Tactical Response Team were then assembled and responded to the scene. The negotiations team tried to telephone Caponigro, but he continually refused to cooperate and made numerous threats to shoot officers.

The man was seen several times during negotiations holding different guns while standing at the windows of his residence.

Police say that after gas was used to force Caponigro from the building, he fired a shotgun in the direction of law enforcement officers.

Henning, who came to the scene as part of the department’s Tactical Response Team, shot at Caponigro, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

Caponigro was an employee of the City of Eau Claire at the time of his death, a press release from King said.

During the investigation, Caponigro’s brother told authorities that Caponigro had “called to say goodbye and told (his brother) that he was going to have a shootout with police and that police were going to have to shoot him,” the press release said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.