CANAL FULTON: Northwest High School Principal Larry Tausch’s phone rang Friday night after a long week of fear and rumors on social media about school violence.

None turned out to be true at Northwest.

But now a 17-year-old student was standing in a clump of woods behind a development in Jackson Township with police. He was calling to tell Tausch they found his cousin, also 17, and a 16-year-old girl.

The couple, both Northwest students, had been shot in the head. Police suspected a double suicide or, perhaps, a homicide-suicide.

Teachers and staff at the school about 23 miles south of Akron had trained all year to prevent student suicides.

And hours earlier Friday, Tausch had sought to give the school hope by calling a special assembly for all 650 students before the school day began.

Last week had been especially tough, he acknowledged.

Northwest had been on edge since the Valentine’s Day shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., left 17 dead.

On Tuesday, fears grew, however, when school violence struck closer to home and a 13-year-old boy shot and killed himself in a bathroom inside neighboring Jackson Memorial Middle School.

That boy’s death followed the suicides of five students and a recent graduate from nearby Perry Local Schools in Stark County.

Tausch told the assembly the nation would be looking at Stark County because of the unprecedented number of students taking their own lives.

But, he said with hope, people would remember Northwest for a different reason.

“We’re going to be an example of how to fix this,” Tausch said he told them. “We’re going to get this right.”

The boy and girl found shot in the woods were at the morning assembly, Tausch said. He remembered seeing them again later Friday in a school hallway standing close together.

“Oh, they’re dating,” he said he thought to himself at the time. “I did not know that.”

The boy had been in trouble before, but so had half the kids in the school, Tausch said. He had lived in Florida but moved to Ohio this year and entered high school as a junior.

Tausch had known the girl since he was principal of the middle school. She was a sophomore, he said, with lots of friends and a big heart.

Both the girl and boy were quiet.

In that split second Friday that he realized they were dating, Tausch also remembered hoping that it might be good for both of them.

Role of social media

Fear hit Northwest High moments after a student shot himself with a rifle inside a restroom at Jackson Memorial Middle School on Tuesday.

Tausch first heard about it from a school resource officer and, immediately after, two students stopped him separately in a hallway after seeing the shooting on social media.

Students were genuinely scared, Tausch said. He could hear it in their voices.

“They recognize there’s a problem, and it’s not just with their classmates,” he said.

“Every day they wake up they hear something else. They know this is not normal.”

Northwest had a long-planned meeting for parents scheduled Tuesday night and considered canceling it.

But Tausch pushed ahead because he thought the topic was too important: Children, he said, are increasingly unhappy and often depressed because they spend too much time on social media.

About 250 parents showed up. Tausch said Saturday he wished it would have been 5,000.

He didn’t know if social media played a role in the deaths of the boy and girl shot in the woods.

Children have always had problems, Tausch said Saturday, but what’s changed in recent years is social media.

“It’s like gasoline thrown on top of a burning fire,” he said. “It’s the accelerant.”

At the meeting, one of the first things Tausch told parents was to take away their children’s mobile phones at night.

“Kids are using them after they go to bed until 2, 3, 4 in the morning,” he said. “Not only are they looking at all this stuff, they’re not sleeping.”

Tausch said his own teenage son now charges his phone overnight in Tausch and his wife’s bathroom so they know he’s not on it.

Second, Tausch said, be an example to your kids about social media.

If you need to check Facebook, he said, do it when your children aren’t around.

Tausch feared Tuesday night would be consumed by parents worried about in-school safety. And there was that, he said.

But he hoped he also convinced a few that they can, as parents, take away their children’s phones, especially now as rumors spread about the Northwest students who died.

Community shaken

The counters of the school office at Northwest High School on Saturday were covered in home-baked cookies, pumpkin rolls and jugs of sweet tea.

“Thanks for bringing those in,” a staff member told a woman who dropped off baked goods.

“It’s all I could do,” the woman replied. “I didn’t know what to do.”

The deaths of the two students — the girl died at the shooting scene Friday about 8:30 p.m., the boy died at a hospital about 2 a.m. — rattled the community.

Teachers and staff at Northwest have worked to prevent suicide there since the beginning of the year by making sure that each student has a strong bond with at least one of them.

When asked Saturday if any teachers or staff felt they had failed with the boy and girl who died, Principal Tausch took the burden himself.

“I own every kid in this school,” he said. “I own their successes and I own their failures.”

On Saturday, a sectional wrestling tournament went on as planned in one wing of the school.

And another wing opened at 10 a.m. for students, teachers and staff to mourn.

About 100 students spent about an hour in the media center consoling each other and then broke into smaller groups with two school psychologists, guidance counselors and nearly all the teachers and staff.

Outside counselors and others will be in the school Monday when all of the children return to school.

School Superintendent Mike Shreffler said the school hasn’t confronted anything similar in recent years, and there’s no protocol for how to handle such a loss.

“You try to draw on the wisdom you’ve gained as a human being and as an educator,” he said.

Shreffler has posted updates for parents and students online throughout the week.

Among other things, he urges them to ignore rumors on social media and to bring any questions to him or Tausch.

He has also urged parents to lock up any guns so children can’t reach them.

On Saturday, he and Tausch said they will try to piece together what happened leading up to the student deaths to see what they may have missed.

“This is so complicated, and there are many reasons it happens,” Tausch said. “But the answer to it, and it may sound corny, is love.”

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettABJ. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettabj.