Why? Cooperstown devastated by teen's suicide

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. - The question shaking this small town in the wake of a teenage suicide thought to be prompted by bullying is as simple as it is crushing.

A poster showing a design of a T-shirt being made in memory of Cassidy Andel hangs in the window of T and Sign Designs in downtown Cooperstown. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. - The question shaking this small town in the wake of a teenage suicide thought to be prompted by bullying is as simple as it is crushing.


Why would a 16-year-old girl with such a wide group of friends and relatives as Cassidy Andel, who'd been such a positive force in the lives of others, who seemed to have so much going for her in life, why would she end her own?

It's the question Caitlin Saxberg, a friend of Andel's since working together at Pizza Ranch, has grappled with since she heard of the tragic death on Thursday.

"Everyone knew her as this happy ball of sunshine. She was so outgoing and full of life," Saxberg said. "Even if you didn't know Cassidy, you were affected by this because she was nice to everyone."


Andel was who Saxberg would turn to with her own problems, be it breaking up with a boy or dealing with a problematic friend.

"She was always there no matter what the situation," said Saxberg, a 16-year-old of Cooperstown. "She was the best friend anybody could ever have. There's no other way to put it."

As heart-wrenching condolences and recrimination spilled freely on the website Facebook, Cooperstown kept its grief closer to the vest as several residents declined to speak publicly about the suicide.

Despite the reticence to talk in the close-knit town, the pain was felt broadly, said Jon Flatland, owner of the local newspaper, the Griggs County Courier.

"We're devastated," he said of Cooperstown, a city of 1,200 roughly 50 miles north of Valley City, N.D. "The entire region is in shock."

Even students from other area schools were stung by the loss, with grief counselors dispatched to some of them, Flatland said.

Flatland said Andel was a bright and articulate teen, a Griggs County Central sophomore who had joined the football team this year on a lark and participated in a mock accident to raise safety awareness this fall.

She was a musical girl who played piano, sang in the choir and played in the school band, a basketball player who loved to hunt and shoot photos and a Sunday school teacher at Trinity Lutheran Church, her family wrote in her obituary. A request to speak with relatives passed along via the funeral home was declined Friday.


Rebecca Edland, owner of T and Signs Designs in Cooperstown, said she is working on a memorial T-shirt honoring the 16-year-old. Andel's family wants to donate the proceeds to anti-bullying programs.

"People are looking for things to do," Edland said. "It's channeling that frustration toward something good."

Saxberg said Andel told her about untrue rumors that'd been swirling about her for months, but she was also having a tough time taking the death of Shyler Harr, a close friend who'd died Sept. 26 in a car crash near Jamestown.

She'd spoken with Andel early in the week, and they planned to hang out this weekend. It seemed Andel was doing well, but it was often hard to tell, she said.

"She never liked people knowing when she was upset," she said.

Saxberg said she'd heard from other friends after she talked to Andel that she'd been getting harassing text messages from some girls.

"I was like, 'Oh, I'll just talk to her about it this weekend and find out what's going on so I could help,' " Saxberg said. "I should have texted her right away."

Griggs County's sheriff is investigating the death, but North Dakota doesn't have anti-bullying laws. Several state lawmakers said on Friday they plan to propose such legislation at the 2011 legislative session.


Flatland said while emotions are still raw, he had not sensed a strong clamoring for criminal charges.

"Prosecuting anybody won't bring Cassidy back," he said. "We're going to deal with it as a community, and we're going to heal as a community."

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