By Leota Harriman, Editor-at-large
Three teenage boys, all sophomores at Moriarty High School, were found dead in an Edgewood garage Sunday, dead from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning from a propane heater found nearby.
The school district is responding to the second tragedy in three years at the high school, where the current senior class lost a classmate in 2020.
Edgewood Police Department is investigating the deaths. “As of now there is no indication of foul play, it appears that the cause of death may be Carbon Monoxide Poisoning as a propane heater was found to be in use,” wrote Chief of Police Roger Jimenez in a press release.
Principal Robert Adams said all three boys were sophomores at the high school which serves students from Edgewood, Moriarty, and the surrounding area. Adams said one of the boys was from Moriarty and two were from Edgewood.
The district pulled people from all of its schools to provide grief counseling and social workers to students and teachers.
In emotional interviews, the school district administration said the community is reaching out to each other, as it has before.
Adams said the senior class—whose classmate Mateo Sandoval (and his brother Pete) died in January 2020—is organizing a memorial to be held Wednesday, and reaching out to their younger peers.
Clergy from Moriarty and Edgewood were on hand Monday to provide counseling; social workers walked through each boy’s class schedule to talk to classmates about the deaths.
Superintendent Teresa Salazar said the school district has a crisis management plan. They were notified on Sunday afternoon, Salazar said, and started putting the plan into action right away, getting in touch with staff and parents.
Natalie Romero is in charge of that crisis response plan and said the schools reached out to churches in the area.
She said the district has tapped on staff that have most contact with students to “support them, because at any time, any student or staff can have a trigger.” She added, “Knowing the students and having those relationships with them, you could identify right away with them.”
Additionally, the school district has worked with trauma in students ever since 2020 and the start of the Covid pandemic, she said. The library is being used as a central location and resource center.
The district identified relatives of the deceased teenagers at other district schools, and is providing extra support there as well, Salazar said. It also called in extra substitute teachers to provide relief for faculty.
“We’ve already got kids here who have gone through this,” Adams said. “There’s not a playbook for this. It’s still brand new, less than 16 hours, something like that. They brought [the idea for a memorial] to us 30 minutes ago. … And what about those seniors. … Because they’ve been through it and they know and they’re trying to be helpful. It is leadership and part of the healing processing for them.”
Salazar said Moriarty Mayor Ted Hart and Edgewood Mayor Audrey Jaramillo offered support from the respective town governments, and that school districts from around the state have offered help as well.
As of this writing, Valley View Church in Edgewood, along with The People’s Church and Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Moriarty had offered to help, and a fundraiser started to help with funeral expenses for at least one of the teens.
Political differences disappear and the tight-knit towns of the Estancia Valley help each other when tragedy strikes, Adams said. “It’s always our No. 1 priority making sure the kids are OK. … I think in our communities, we really need to have a conversation about carbon monoxide. We have lots of families who hunt, families that use propane. I mean, we absolutely don’t want this tragedy to happen again.”
The Edgewood Police Department also stressed the dangers of carbon monoxide and the importance of having carbon monoxide detectors. “Carbon monoxide is extremely dangerous, it cannot be seen, smelled, or heard,” Jimenez said.
As for school assignments and homework, that will take a back seat to the mental health of students and staff alike, Adams said, calling it a “loose learning” situation.
“This is ongoing, not one and done,” Salazar said, talking about trauma-informed work the school district has done since 2020. “Because it may not be something that manifests itself for another week or two weeks… or ten years, so really making sure that staff not only have those relationships … to seek help for the child.”