7-year-old boy hangs himself -US authorities

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PHILADELPHIA, Oct 26 (Reuters) A 7-year-old boy hanged himself at his home in southern New Jersey, a prosecutor said today in the latest sign of an increase in suicides by young people and adolescents.

The boy, who has not been identified by authorities, was discovered on Wednesday afternoon by family members in his bedroom in Vineland, New Jersey, about 40 miles south of Philadelphia, said Lt. Thomas Ulrich of the Vineland police.

Ronald Casella, the prosecutor for Cumberland County, said the boy was found hanging from a bed post with a belt around his neck.

He was dead when paramedics arrived, the prosecutor said.

There were no indications that the boy's death was a homicide or the result of child abuse, Casella said. He said it was possible that the death could have been the accidental result of a game but there were no other children involved.

''Indications are that this was deliberate,'' Casella said.

The boy was a second-grade student at the Cunningham Elementary School in Vineland. According to school authorities, the boy appeared to be a good student who was in a program for gifted and talented students, Casella said. He said the boy had had no discipline problems, and was regarded as well liked by his peers.

Casella said the boy came home from school on Wednesday afternoon and was told to go to his room and do his homework. When he failed to come out after some time, family members went in and found him hanging, Casella said.

The boy's mother, stepfather, grandfather, and two siblings were home at the time, Ulrich said.

Dr David Fassler, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont at Burlington, said the suicide of such young children was ''relatively rare'' but that suicide is the fifth-most common cause of death among 5- to 14-year-olds in the United States.

Fassler said parents and teachers should be aware of potential suicide signals. ''When your child talks about suicide, you need to take it seriously,'' he said. ''It's always a signal that something is going on.'' The American Journal of Psychiatry reported in September that suicide among young people under age 19 rose 14 percent in 2004, the latest year for which data is available, compared with 2003.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that suicide among 10- to 24-year-olds had increased by 8 percent in 2004 following a decline of almost a third during the previous 15 years.

Dr Alvin Rosenfeld, a child psychiatrist in New York City and a professor at Harvard Medical School, said he had never heard of a suicide in a child as young as 7.

''It's going to lead a lot of parents to be very anxious,'' Rosenfeld told Reuters.

REUTERS SZ PM0202

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