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17 October 2013

Is it fair to blame a suicidal teen
who took other lives?

The Canessa Commentary

EDISON, N.J. -- 

On Wednesday, we learned of the suicidal death of a 15-year-old boy, Srijan Saha, a student at JP Stevens High School in Edison, N.J. When the story was first made known to the public, it was believed to be a horrific crash that took the lives of Saha and two other men driving in another car.

The two men who died were Mohammed Zia, 46, and his brother-in-law, Ali Behzad, 36, both of Edison, N.J. The Star-Ledger reported the two men had gone out for a late-night cup of coffee, and wound up being hit, head on, on state Route 27.

A simple cup of coffee turns into an epic tragedy.

But on Wednesday, we learned the boy, whose name hasn’t officially been released by police, wrote a suicide note on himself. And what was first seen as a tragic car crash turned into a homicide-suicide.

Saha's Facebook photo.
Saha, at 15, wasn’t even old enough to have a learner’s permit driver’s license. Reports say he took his family car without his parents’ knowledge.

This story opened up a discussion on, the official website of The Star-Ledger, that was, at time, poignant, and at times, downright disgusting. For me, it opened up thoughts again of yet another teenager whose mental health was clearly in irreparable shape – and whose mental health problems somehow appeared to go unnoticed.

Before I go further, let me say something clearly here: Three lives were lost in this crash – and the loss of any life in a car crash is always terribly sad.

But this now leads to what caused an ugly dialogue online – and that is, should blame be assessed in this case?

Based on the reports I read, the two men who died leave behind a total of six children. Saha leaves behind a family, including both his mother and father. There are countless people from many families who are suffering – right this very second – beyond anything most of us can comprehend.

And yet, it’s impossible not to take note that two men would be alive today if a 15-year-old boy didn’t make the decision to take his own life. Somehow, inexplicably, he decided to take his own life by crashing his car by driving it into on-coming traffic.

And with that being said, it begs the question: As a society, do we place blame on the boy for doing what he did?

The saddest part of this entire story is that another case of mental illness, in all probability, went untreated and unnoticed. Perhaps down the line, we’ll learn more about Saha and what kind, if any, treatment he got. But for now, it’s appropriate to presume anything.

Mental-health issues continue to be ignore in our country. Whether it’s biological depression, bi-polar-mania, schizophrenia or a number of other diseases, we often forget that many people who do bad things in this world do so because of untreated mental-health issues.

There is still an amazing stigma attached to mental-health problems. So many who suffer from these illnesses – and their families and friends – see medicating and treating as unacceptable.

I personally remember a family member once telling me that people who are depressed “don’t need medication – they need to just suck it up and snap out of their sadness or confusion.”

But as someone who has battled depression my entire life, I know personally it’s just not that easy. I can’t even begin to recall all the times in my life I came down with depression for no good reason at all. The bottom line is, at least for me, there’s a chemical imbalance somewhere in my brain that causes the depression. And if I don’t medicate it properly, it’ll only get worse. There is nothing I can do to change that unless medication is involved. And it’s the case for anyone who suffers from any kind of mental illness.

Yet some, still, won’t take medications because of the side effects. Some won’t take medications because people tell them not to. Some don’t take medication because they simply don’t know – they’re not aware – that there is help out there. And it can and does get better.

Saha had to have something terrible going on in his head. Saha likely didn’t tell anyone (or many) about what was happening to him on the inside. Saha got behind the wheel of a car a few nights ago, took his own life, and the lives of two innocent men in Edison.

And the question still remains, should we blame him for what he did?

If he wasn’t afforded a chance to get better, how COULD we blame him for what he did?

Sadly, we’ll likely never know what was happening to him before he did what he did.

But if one thing is clear, if anything is evident – it’s that as a nation, we’ve got to come to grips with a reality that mental-health issues are everywhere. Someone you know likely suffers from a mental disease.

And turning them away from the help they could be getting is about as wrong as anything a human being could possibly do.

And until this country wakes up – and realizes most mentally ill people can be helped – we’re doomed to see more and more cases like this one, like Tyler Clementi and like so many others we’ve seen on the news.

That, unfortunately, is the biggest tragedy of them all.


  1. I appreciate your commentary. But I think you are dodging the issue a bit. Tyler Clementi didn't kill anyone when he committed suicide; Justin Bell killed an innocent man. A lot of anger at this poor boy's final acts has to do with not "merely" his suicide, but his choice to kill others. He chose his victims at random, using them to end his own immensurate alienation and pain.
    Since we can never know what he did or didn't know, I guess this is a moot point. But we WANT to think that he knew not to hurt anyone else, that he was a good guy. We also want to think that he didn't know what he was doing when he crossed the centerline.
    However, I can't help but think of boys who steal guns and shoot in schools -- they too are deeply troubled, and try to go out in "a blaze of glory" (infamy, really), taking others with them. Do we still say that those boys are not murderers because they were just kids, minors? Do we say that they are just as much victims as the ones they killed? We do wring our hands and grieve, but we are torn (though perhaps less) between blaming and mourning the sad boy, the killer.

    The only way I can make myself feel better at seeing this tragedy is to think, It's a good thing at least that he didn't have a gun.
    I think to myself immediately afterwards, Good thing that when I was his age, *I* didn't have a car or a gun.