Suicidal Palo Alto teacher killed by police

Monday, a Palo Alto middle school teacher lost his life due to an officer-involved shooting. That teacher, 33 year old Kyle Hart, had a history of mental illness according to San Mateo County officials.

It appeared the married father of two small children prompted the deadly use of force by police, after first attempting to kill himself. His death has left multiple parts of the larger community struggling with grief and sadness..

Far deeper than the mystery surrounding Kyle Hart’s apparent decision to court death, is the pain left in its wake. Neighbors, family, and friends are all baffled as to why, and are all shattered by the sense of loss.

“It’s really not only the family members that are affected by suicide, but entire communities,” said Mego Lien, the Santa Clara County suicide prevention manager.

That community includes Greene Middle School in Palo Alto. Hart taught social studies and English there, and colleagues said he made a lasting connection with students.

“They’re devastated. They’re shocked. They’re heartbroken. They cannot believe it happened,” said Jen Koepnick, a family friend since she and Hart were in college, and currently a teacher in the Palo Alto Unified School District..

Thursday, the district’s superintendent sent a letter to the community saying in part, “…The sad news has touched many and may create feelings and emotions that require the assistance of professionals.”

Palo Alto district officials said grief counselors had been at Greene Middle School, and that resources would be available for as long as needed. Additionally, the district is partnering with project safety net, a city agency designed to help young people work through the difficulties associated with suicide. There’s a community meeting scheduled for December 19 at 6 p.m.

Another component of the community grieving the loss of life are the officers who fired the fatal shots. Veteran lawmen know sometimes it’s a no-win situation.

“Whether it’s suicide by cop or whether an individual has other reasons to do that, the officers just need to protect themselves,” said San Jose Police chief Eddie Garcia.

Hart first attempted to slit his wrists and throat, and when Redwood City police responded, he charged at them with a butcher knife, prompting deadly gunfire.

“Nobody starts the day hoping to kill somebody,” said Det. Mike Tabak of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

He runs the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team within the sheriff’s office. Tabak said deputies and county police officers receive 40 hours of crisis intervention training every three months. Still, he said taking the life of a married father struggling with mental health issues weighs on law men and women.

“It’s an incredible emotional drain. If you can imagine the weight put on somebody who had to seriously injury somebody or even take somebody’s life, that catastrophic. Nobody wants that,” said Tabak.

It is a shared burden no one wants, but hundreds are dealing with, as they agonize over the question of why.

A GoFundMe page set up for Kyle Hart’s widow and two young children has raised almost $200,000 since it was established Tuesday. The goal is to raise $250,000 to help with funeral expenses, and a college fund for the Hart’s children.