The parents of a Loudoun County teen who took his own life in February are suing the school counselor who was warned that the student was considering suicide.
Jay Gallagher, an outgoing senior at Potomac Falls High School, had told a friend in Colorado that he was depressed, struggling with high expectations at school and a strained relationship with his parents, according to the lawsuit.
She emailed Potomac Falls school counselor Richard Bader to see if he could reach out to Jay. On Jan. 11, she wrote that her friend “wants some help but isn’t sure how to initiate, so just thought I’d let you know.”
Bader replied in an email, thanking her for the heads up and said that he had been in touch with Jay. A few days later, the 18-year-old took his life.
Jay’s parents, Erin and Timothy Gallagher, are suing Bader—both as an employee of Loudoun County Public Schools and as an individual—in a $5 million wrongful death suit. The lawsuit filed in Loudoun Circuit Court on Friday asserts that Bader is required to report a student’s suicidal behavior to parents.
In the case, Bader is represented by Julia Judkins, the school system’s attorney on retainer. Judkins told the Washington Post that the lawsuit does not tell the full story. She said Jay had told Bader to not tell his parents about their meeting.
Loudoun County has seen a rise in teen suicides in the past year. It’s prompted a community-wide conversation about how to improve the safety net to help struggling teens before they make a fatal decision. Law enforcement leaders and mental health professionals have held town hall-style meetings, working to arm parents to promote potentially life-saving tips. And, in the spring, the school system’s top psychologists, social workers, and counselors rolled out an emergency outreach effort to every high school after a fourth Loudoun student in less than a year committed suicide.
But this is the first a young person’s suicide has made it to a Loudoun County courtroom.
In July, Loudoun County Public Schools posted a statement in response to an outpouring of complaints from Potomac Falls parents and students about Jay’s death. It said that the school system mourned his loss along with the entire community.
The statement continued, “For the past several months, the Gallagher family has been represented by a lawyer, who has given the school division notice of a potential claim. LCPS has been in confidential communication with this lawyer, to whom information has been provided. Loudoun County Public Schools is not at liberty to share additional information regarding this pending legal matter.”