Family disputes coroner's suicide finding in death of 8-year-old


The mother of an 8-year-old Las Vegas boy whose shooting death last week was ruled a suicide says her son didn't kill himself.

"It's not a suicide," Sarah Singleton, the boy's mother, told the Review-Journal in a brief telephone call Friday. "My child was not suicidal."

Clayton James Singleton and his younger sister were at home Saturday night in the 9100 block of Wine Cellar Avenue, near the intersection of Pebble and Fort Apache roads, when Clayton shot himself, according to Las Vegas police. No one else was home at the time.

Earlier this week the Clark County Coroner's Office ruled the death a suicide. What factors lead to that ruling remain confidential in what is an ongoing police investigation.

While asserting that Clayton did not intentionally take his own life, Singleton would say nothing more about the circumstances surrounding his death.

While Clayton's family rejects the coroner's ruling, police are still trying to determine how the child got a hold of the gun and if negligence by an adult was a factor.

According to Metro spokesman Jesse Roybal, the case was still considered open as of Friday while the department's Abuse and Neglect continues to investigate the death. Clayton's younger sister was removed from the house by Department of Family Services a few days after the shooting.

Over the past decade, cases where children were killed or injured with unsecured guns but ruled accidental have sometimes been followed by neglect charges against the parents. But it's rare for parents to be charged in cases involving youth suicide, even when guns are unsecured.

On the same day in December 2011, for example, two youths at separate houses shot themselves with guns that were not secured, according to police. The coroner determined were suicide, but no parents were charged by the Clark County District Attorney.

The Center for Disease Control says several factors enhance the risk for youth suicide. Those include: history of previous suicide attempts, family history of suicide, a history of depression or other mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse, stressful life event or loss, easy access to lethal methods and exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, according to the CDC website.

While Clayton's age has drawn attention to his death, suicide prevention professionals say that while rare, suicides among the very young are not unknown.

"Anybody can have thoughts of suicide," said Richard Egan, a suicide prevention trainer with Nevada's Department of Health and Human Services. "Anybody can be at risk."

Dr. Nadine Kaslow, former president of the American Psychological Association and current professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said understanding pre-adolescent suicides is difficult because there is so little data due to how rarely they happen.

Unfortunately, Kaslow said, most children who try to kill themselves don't understand the permanence of their choice.

"They have a difficult time appreciating the finality of death in a way that adults typically would," Kaslow said.

Egan and Kaslow both say the warning signs for youth are essentially the same as they are for adults, and say to look for things such as changes in attitude, isolation and a loss of interest in things that they used to enjoy.

"What could be going on in their life that could bring them to think that suicide is an option?" Egan said. "It's still some of the same things that we look at for adults. But the different age groups may perceive it differently."

If your child is displaying any of the warning signs, or if you think your child might be having suicidal thoughts, be willing to talk to them about it, Egan said.

"Ask them openly and directly if that's what they are thinking. If that is what they're thinking, then connect them to resources. If that's not what they're thinking, help them with their life crises," Egan said.

Contact reporter Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Find him on Twitter: @ColtonLochhead.