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Four Teens Make Suicide Pact, Die Of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

March 12, 1987 GMT

BERGENFIELD, N.J. (AP) _ Four teen-agers locked themselves in a car and committed suicide by apparent carbon monoxide poisoning Wednesday, after writing a note on a brown paper bag asking to be buried together, authorities said.

Mayor Charles O’Dowd urged other youngsters who might be thinking about suicide to seek help, while the mother of one of the victims said young people in the community had formed a death pact and were ″dying one after another.″

The bodies of the two girls and two boys, ages 17 to 19, were found in a locked car in an apartment complex garage about 6:30 a.m. after a passer-by heard the car’s motor running and called police, said Bergen County Prosecutor Larry McClure.

The four - Thomas Rizzo, 19, Thomas Olton, 19, and sisters Lisa and Cheryl Burress, ages 17 and 18 - were pronounced dead at the scene, he said.

The suicides followed the deaths last year of four youths in this middle- class community of 25,500 about six miles west of New York City. McClure said the four who killed themselves Wednesday may have known the other youths, whose deaths he described as ″incidents that may have been suicides and ... were related to drug and-or alcohol consumption.″

Rizzo’s mother, who refused to give her first name, said one of last year’s deaths involved her son’s best friend, Joe Major, who fell from a cliff overlooking the Hudson River and that Rizzo saw it happen. Mrs. Rizzo described the death as a suicide.

″They have a pact going on here in Bergenfield and they are dying one after another,″ she said.

″We’re very concerned that there is a possibility of a contagion effect,″ said James Cooney, director of the Bergen Regional Counseling Center. ″We’re concerned that other students who are upset and concerned about these events know who to talk to.″

The answering service for the Bergen County Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse received seven calls Wednesday night, ″more than normal,″ said an operator who would not give her name.

An operator at the answering service for the Community Center for Mental Health in Dumont, which serves the Bergenfield area, said she had received no calls.

A friend of the youths, 17-year-old Linda Figueroa, said the four appeared to be preoccupied with suicide.

″They would talk about it, but I didn’t think they would do it,″ she said.


McClure said he did not know if drugs or alcohol had played a role. Assistant Bergen County Medical Examiner John Apovian said autopsies would be performed.

A note signed by all of Wednesday’s victims in pen on a brown paper bag was found on the car’s front seat, McClure said.

It said they wanted a wake to be held for all of them and that they wished to be buried together, but gave no ″reasonable explanation″ for the suicide pact, the prosecutor said.

″Obviously by their actions they were troubled individuals to have agreed to commit this act upon themselves,″ he said, refusing to disclose the note’s exact contents.

McClure said the teen-agers last were seen about 3 a.m. when they bought $3 worth of gas at a Bergenfield service station and asked an attendant for a vacuum hose, which was not given to them.

McClure said Olton had marks on both his wrists that apparently had been made by a razor blade. Rizzo had similar marks on his left wrist, and a box of razor blades was found on the floor of the car, which was owned by Olton, the prosecutor said. A single razor blade was found near Rizzo, he added.

McClure would not comment on the youth’s backgrounds or what he had discussed with their parents except to say that Rizzo had been arrested Friday on a disorderly persons charge for hindering police and ambulance workers who were trying to help Olton, who had suffered a head injury. He said he did not know the nature of the injury.

Another friend of the victims, 17-year-old Regina Ruggiero, said three of them were high school drop-outs.

The superintendent of schools referred all calls to Board of Education President Don Stumpf, who was in a meeting at police headquarters.

Miss Ruggiero, a senior at Bergenfield High School, said she believed the youths may have been depressed about Major’s death.

″Everyone had taken that very hard,″ she said.

In last year’s other deaths, two youths died under the wheels of trains and a third was found dead in a pond.

Teen-age suicide has become a problem plaguing many communities.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 6,000 teen-agers or young adults killed themselves in 1984 - one every 90 minutes - making it the third leading cause of death in that age group.

Last year in Plano, Texas, six youths killed themselves, including three in one week. In nearby Richardson, five youths committed suicide in a 12-month period.

Three youths killed themselves in suburban Milwaukee in 1982. Six teens killed themselves in a 2 1/2 -month period of 1983 in Clear Lake, Texas, a Houston suburb.

Four young people committed suicide in three months in Mankato, Minn., and six youths killed themselves in a 2 1/2 -year period in Leominster, Mass.