NEWS

News Casts 'Terrible Sadness' At Makhniashvili's School

03/09/2012 07:01 EST | Updated 05/09/2012 05:12 EDT
CP

The principal of the school where Mariam Makhniashvili was a student said Forest Hill Collegiate Institute has taken steps to better integrate new students.

“For me it brings a terrible sadness and a tragic sense of loss,” principal Peggy Aitchison said upon hearing news that remains found last week were confirmed Friday to be Makhniashvili.

The 17-year-old Grade 11 student went missing on Sept. 14, 2009.

Police said Friday the injuries to the body are consistent with a fall from a highway overpass near where her body was found. Police also said they do not suspect foul play was a factor in her death.

For Aitchison news of the discovery brings to an end a sad chapter about a student who vanished on her fifth day at school.

Makhniashvili’s family, originally from the Republic of Georgia, had only been in Toronto for three months when their daughter disappeared.

Aitchison said although Mariam was not well known, the school still feels a profound sense of loss after hearing Friday's news.

"The family came to this country looking for a new beginning, and that's not what they found,” said Aitchison.

Aitchison said school staff have worked at improving how new students are integrated. The school now has a newcomers club and an English as a second language club that meets every Friday for breakfast.

"Now a quicker connection is made,” she said.

Although they don't know everything about Makhniashvili's final moments, police have said it's possible she committed suicide.

Aitchison said the best way to combat the isolation that can lead to teen suicide is for parents to keep open communication lines with their teens.

"The stresses on teens have increased over the last many years, the best thing a parent can do is to be involved with their child and to listen, and to hug and to love."

That sentiment was echoed by Karen Letofsky, executive director of Distress Centres, a survivors support program.

"Teens don't have a longer-term perspective,” she told CBC News. “Which sometimes contributes to resiliency, they don't have a pattern of being in a dark place and knowing they can survive it and surmount it.”

She said such stresses can be compounded for those new to Canada.

Letofsky said teens in immigrant families often struggle with "not feeling they can access support and not knowing what resources are available. And not being able to share the feelings in your own language.”

She said many teens don’t know how to handle the feelings they face.

"My belief is that people are not embracing death, they are trying to manage the pain in their lives and the hopefulness comes in knowing that if people ask for help ... we can try to address the issues that are causing them so much pain,” she said.

Aitchison said the school plans to hold some kind of memorial for Makhniashvili, but details have not been finalized.