‘We have to teach them how to grieve’: Westbrook students, community mourn the loss of 17-year-old Joshua Rowe

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Westbrook High School senior Joshua Rowe, 17, died by suicide Oct. 24. 

WESTBROOK — The school district and the community are reeling following the death of student Joshua Rowe.

Rowe, 17, died by suicide Oct. 24 in his Wildwood Circle home. Hundreds of people attended both his wake and funeral earlier this week.

Superintendent Peter Lancia said Westbrook High School students have struggled to understand Rowe’s sudden death.

“They’re so sad,” he said. “That’s the hardest thing to see.”

Rowe, who was a senior at WHS, was the son of David and Karen Rowe. His older brother, Devin, graduated from WHS this past spring.

Rowe was found unconscious in his garage by his father. Initial toxicology reports indicate Rowe died of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Police Chief Janine Roberts. She said police received a call at 6:35 p.m. on Oct. 24, Rowe was pronounced dead at the scene and there was no evidence of foul play.

Roberts said she’s still waiting for the medical examiner’s report, but that her main concern right now is comforting the Rowe family.

“It’s more about supporting the family and providing answers to them,” she said.

Lancia said the school department has been trying to do the same for Rowe’s peers. Volunteers from the Trauma Intervention Program were at the school Oct. 25 and 26 to counsel students and staff, and Lancia said they’re still available as needed. On Oct. 25, the WHS auditorium became a space for students to gather, although Lancia said students who were deeply affected were allowed to go home early with their parents.

“We’ve tried to give kids as much as we can in terms of support and also education,” Lancia said.

The school covers suicide prevention education in health class, Lancia said, but has been providing additional resources to students and parents over the past week. The school will also hold a forum for parents on Nov. 7 at 6 pm. at Westbrook Middle School.

Lancia said the school has been helping students find healthy ways to express and understand their feelings. He said he’s proud of how resilient they’ve been, but that they still need help coping.

“With a loss, when it’s suicide it’s a little harder to go through the grieving process,” he said. “We want to help them have good responses. We have to teach them how to grieve.”

This includes, in part, teaching the students how to come together and lean on each other.

“We’re trying to promote the interpersonal relationship piece as much as possible and bring people together,” Lancia said.

At Rowe’s wake on Oct. 29 at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, over 600 people attended, Lancia said. The following day at his funeral at St. Joseph’s Church in Portland, an estimated 500 people were in attendance. Lancia said the funeral was standing room only.

Many of those in attendance were Rowe’s classmates. Lancia said the school transported a bus full of students from WHS to the funeral on Monday.

“I was so heartened and so proud that they were able to attend and offer his family comfort,” he said.

The community as a whole has also rallied around the Rowe family. A Go Fund Me page created to cover the cost of Rowe’s funeral had raised more than $17,000 as of Tuesday.

“I’m really grateful to the community and how everyone has come together during this time,” Lancia said.

Lancia commended Rowe’s family for their strength and said he admires what a “beautiful son they raised.” He said he remembers meeting Rowe as a little kid when he registered for school at the Congin School, where Lancia was principal at the time.

Jeffrey Guerette, who coached Rowe in football his freshman and sophomore years, said the community and school support are testaments to how much Rowe was loved.

“There are a lot of people in the school who are grieving,” Guerette said. “Josh touched a lot of people here.”

Rowe also played baseball and track at WHS and loved skiing and snowmobiling. Guerette said he enjoyed being Rowe’s coach and that his favorite part was getting to coach Josh and Devin Rowe on the same team.

“He was a really positive, fun kid and I think probably one of the best parts was getting to coach him and his brother and watching them play together,” he said.

Lancia said Rowe is greatly missed and that he hopes Rowe’s peers hold on to the positive memories they have of him.

“He was very well loved and people aren’t going to forget him,” Lancia said. “He was a great kid, very personable, and had a great smile, a mischievous smile.”

Melanie Creamer of the Portland Press Herald contributed to this report. Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Westbrook High School senior Joshua Rowe, 17, died by suicide Oct. 24.

A balloon memorial was attached to a fence at the Westbrook High School athletic fields.

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