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Santa Monica Mourns Death of Third Samohi Student in Six Months  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 22, 2017 -- Santa Monica was in mourning Wednesday as the community tried to cope with news of a 15-year-old Samohi student who fell three floors to his death Saturday while on LSD, the third death of one of the school’s students in six months.

Police said they arrived on the scene at about 3 p.m. to find Andre Zuczek, a ninth grader, standing on the balcony of a third-floor apartment in the 1700 block of Ocean Avenue.

He fell off as officers approached, said Santa Monica Police Lt. Saul Rodriguez.
Zuczek was rushed to the hospital by paramedics. He was later pronounced dead.

Officers were responding to reports of people acting erratically and possibly experiencing an overdose of hallucinogens in one of the apartments.

Zuczek died after suffering major brain trauma, among other injuries, officials said in a statement from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

A second minor suffered injuries and was treated in the vicinity for superficial injuries and injection of narcotics, police said.

Zuczek’s death comes as students, parents, schools officials and others are still coming to terms with the deaths of Vanai Jelks, also a 15-year-old student at Santa Monica High School, in October and of Kelly Cano, 18 and a Samohi senior, in February.

On Tuesday, Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer, whose daughter attended middle and high school with Zuczek, said he'd learned about teen’s death as he and his family prepared to visit the family of a former SMHS student, Juan Castillo.

Castillo, who graduated from Samohi last year, was found shot in the head and unconscious in late February, just steps from Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center’s emergency room. He subsequently died ("Police Investigate Shooting Death of Santa Monica Teenager," February 27, 2017).
“These recent deaths, and the passing of Kelly Cano, are profoundly saddening, as no community should lose so many young people in such a short span of time,” Winterer said. “My heart aches for the families and friends who will be immersed in grief for years to come."
“Losing a young life is crippling for a family, for peers, and for the entire community,” Winterer said, adding that the City and community share “our deepest condolences with their families. Santa Monica is behind you.”

Before her death last month, Cano had experienced symptoms that included nausea but did not appear seriously ill, said her mother, a Samohi nurse, ("Santa Monica High School Student Dies of Unknown Illness Not Related to Recent Virus Outbreak," February 13, 2017).

A few days after displaying the symptoms, Cano stopped breathing and was taken to the hospital but died when extensive attempts to resuscitate her failed.

Jelks died after an undetermined illness.

District officials have said there is no connection between the two deaths, and that Cano's death is not related to the norovirus outbreak at District schools traced to a late January school field trip to Yosemite.

New cases of the stomach bug continue, with 100 reported in the district’s schools this month.

In a statement issued Monday from the school district, Zuczek’s mother said her son and “a few friends got together on Saturday and tried the drug, acid.”

“Things went badly very quickly as Andre had what is thought to be a 'bad trip,' and fell from a third floor apartment. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors tried very hard to save him,” she said.

“We encourage you to talk about Andre with your kids, friends, your family and whoever else provides you support,” the mother said.

“In sharing, please be aware that hearsay and gossip can be very hurtful and can add more sorrow to the grief we are all feeling at this time,” she said.

SMHS Principal Antonio Shelton said the statement was issued because “Andre’s mom wants the community to know what happened so that other parents may be spared from losing a child to drug use.”

Funeral arrangements are not yet set.

Counseling, which available at all times, is being increased, Shelton said. He also ask for special alertness by parents at this time.

The district is asking parents be “watchful of their students if exhibiting characteristics such as depression, anxiety and stress,” Shelton said.

Mayor Winterer also encouraged more openess between parents and their children.

“This is a moment to talk to your kids about the realities of drug use as the Zuczek family so bravely encouraged," he said.

"It’s also a time to express gratitude for the organizations that step in to provide critical therapeutic support."

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