Family Members Confused by 7-Year-Old Suicide - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Family Members Confused by 7-Year-Old Suicide

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Nathan smiling at the beach (Photo: Wayne Leppo) Nathan smiling at the beach (Photo: Wayne Leppo)

OAK ORCHARD, Del. - According to family members, the cause of death of 7-year-old Nathan Leppo, a Long Neck Elementary student that passed away in September, was suicide.

However, the boy's father, Wayne Leppo, said he doesn't believe it was suicide, even though the death certificate says it.

Leppo said he spoke with his son on the phone the day the 7-year-old died, and claimed nothing sounded unusual.

"He was such a bright ray of sunshine," Leppo said of his son. "He loved to play outside with friends and his brothers. Ride bikes, go fishing, and just being a kid."

Briana Leppo, Nathan's aunt, said she thinks more investigation needs to be done into the cause of death. She added that the boy was living with a family friend when he died. She said she reached out to Delaware Family Services three weeks before Nathan's death about his home placement. She said she believes not enough was done before he passed away.

Representatives with DFS said the Office of Child Advocates is looking into the situation.

According to Dr. Laura Epstein, a clinical child psychologist, suicide among people this young happens, but is rare.

In fact, she said the suicide rate of children ages five to 14 is .5 per 100 thousand people.

"Depression can be caused for a variety of reasons," she explained. "Sometimes it is a genetic susceptibility, in families, but it also can be a reaction to things in the environment so like everything else or like most mental health issues, there's a combination of both the environment and the biological factors that contribute to depression."

Dr. Epstein also noted how important it is to treat signs of depression early on, and while suicide is rare among children, those signs could show up early.

"Some research shows they might attempt," she said. "The rates of attempt might be 14 times higher than an actual completed suicide."

In Delaware, there are resources if you suspect a child may be dealing with some mental health problems or you want to report abuse or neglect.

There are also suicide hotlines available in every state listed on suicide.org.

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