Another train fatality and ways to spot suicide signs
February 9, 2023
Second suicide at Peekskill train crossing in a week
Wilmer Vicente Cango, a 19-year-old Peekskill High School Class of 2021 graduate, died on the train tracks on Monday morning, struck by the 7:08 a.m. southbound train at the Hudson Avenue crossing. The third suicide on Metro North tracks – and the second at Peekskill – in a week prompted MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan to call it “a human tragedy. If you notice any concerning changes in loved ones, don’t ignore them. Start a conversation and assist in finding help,” he said. The Hudson Avenue grade level crossing was the scene of another fatality exactly a week ago, and on February 1st a 34-year-old man was struck and killed on the tracks at Dover on the Harlem Line.
Cango, who was working in the pharmacy at CVS on Main Street, was remembered by those who knew him as a quiet and respectful person. Ruth Wells, the former coordinator of Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP) Fred’s Pantry where Cango and a friend volunteered said he and his friend were referred to as “the little guys,” because of their size. They were about 12 or 13 years old. Frequently students would come to the Pantry to earn hours for their Confirmation program service requirement. “He stayed on beyond the amount of hours he needed for the service requirement. I remember how he and his friend would be loaded onto the hand truck by some of the older student volunteers, and wheeled around,” recalled Wells. “He was small but mighty, and he put his hand to anything we needed done. He was loved by everybody – the other volunteers and the clients,” said Wells.
Before he worked at CVS, he was a cashier at Stop-n-Shop. “I would see him when I checked out and if there was no one on the line behind me, we’d chat and he said he was going to Westchester Community College and then would transfer to another college with the hopes of going to medical school. Clearly he had ambitions of helping people through the medical field,” said Wells.
Two former CVS coworkers, Autumn Brown and Juan Arpi, recalled their time working with Cango. “Wilmer was a very smart, hard working kid. Whenever I had a question about a prescription or something, I asked Wilmer,” said Arpi in a phone interview. “He took his job very seriously. He was one of the fastest workers in the store and was dedicated to the store. Wilmer would love to joke around a lot but he knew when it was time to work.” Arpi continued, “He would always stay longer if the pharmacy needed help or even come in on days he wasn’t scheduled to help. That’s what I respected most about him, how much of a hard worker he was. He was going to school and working so he looked exhausted sometimes but he always gave it his all at work. Overall, as a friend and a coworker he was an amazing person,” said Arpi.
On a Facebook post Brown wrote: “During my time there, I was pregnant and he would always make sure to make me laugh. I used to call him my worker bee because he was so dedicated to CVS and so focused on completing school. He talked about his love for becoming a pharmacist and taking care of his family.
Roxanne Woodruff, a retired Peekskill Middle School teacher also shared on a Facebook post. “Wilmer was my student at the middle school for sixth grade science. He was a sweet, young man, who loved science, was a good student, and loved to play UNO. We, myself included, would sit on the floor during recess and play as many, very competitive games as time would allow. Alexis Vasquez shared her sadness about hearing of Cango’s passing on a separate Facebook post, “This saddens me to no end. Wilmer was my second grader. As I remember him, he was a little boy that loved soccer, came in each day with a smile on his face and seemed to enjoy our time together. I wish I could turn back the hands of time. I wish I would’ve had a chance to speak to him before this tragedy occurred. Wilmer, I’m so sorry that this happened. It’s my hope that no one else goes down this path. Reach out to someone, please. This is not the solution,” wrote Vasquez.
When he was at Peekskill High School he was a member of the Latino Culture Club, the Math Competition Club, Track and Field. Councilman Ramon Fernandez, who coached the Santos Football Club that Cango belonged to, recalled that his nickname was Karate Kid because he would raise his foot to kick the ball.
Jessica Pacheco, a friend who knew Cango from his neighborhood, organized a GoFundMe campaign to help his family with funeral expenses. “I remember during summer vacation when he was around 10 or 11, when my husband used to play soccer with other neighbors in the front yard, Wilmer would come mad because his mom only gave him 20 minutes to play.” She continued “He was the most kind and respectful kid I have ever known. He always tried to make everyone laugh. He was always happy and trying to make his mom proud. He would talk about getting his career done all the time,” said Pacheco.
“We are trying to help this family with the funeral expenses and give some relief to his mom, dad and brothers. His mom is the most kind woman and she is devastated and she wasn’t prepared for something like this. Any help counts toward the $10,000 goal.” As of Friday afternoon, the goal was exceeded with 12,245 raised.
Wednesday night, the friends and family of Cango, who was born in August of 2003 to Pablo Cango and Lidia Muñoz began a prayer vigil for him. The vigil is a series of prayers said on nine consecutive nights. There will be a wake at the Joseph F. Nardone Funeral Home at 414 Washington Street on Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. and a funeral mass at Assumption Church at 10 a.m. Friday.
Reporter Jeffrey Merchan contributed to this story.
This type of community-based journalism about Peekskill won’t be found elsewhere. When journalists live in the communities they serve they have relationships with neighbors, friends and co-workers which contributes to deeper reporting. You can support this public service reporting here by making a donation to our reader supporter nonprofit news site.
Learn best indicators for suicide
Suicide is a growing public health crisis. The Herald reached out to Diane Lotto, founder of the Counseling Collective at 1008 Main Street in the wake of 19-year-old Wilmer Cango’s suicide. The Counseling Collective has four therapists / licensed social workers who treat children, adolescents and adults. Lotto, who founded the Collective three years ago, specializes in adolescent mental health and said becoming familiar with the warning signs are the best indicator that someone is contemplating suicide.
Those warning signs look different for teens than for adults because of the onset of hormones. “Teenagers have more energy to take action steps to end their life. Teens are full of energy.” She pointed to indicators, especially in adolescent men, who are struggling with depression. The warning signs include irritability, being quick to anger, easily frustrated and not afraid to express it – and isolating themselves. Giving away treasured possessions is another key indicator, as well as posting on social media about their intentions, continued Lotto.
“There is so much stigma around suicide. People think if they tell someone then they are going to be locked up in an institution next. That is so far from the truth, “ said Lotto. Hospitalization is the last resort, she explained. According to Lotto, there is a huge variety of ways to work with someone who expresses suicidal thoughts. Making a safety plan is a key step in helping someone. An integral part of a safety plan is having someone to talk to and if a person isn’t available knowing to call the suicide prevenation hotline at 988 is one part of a safety plan.The Crisis Text Hotline can be reached here or text HOME to 741741. The Trevor Project Crisis Line text is 678678 and can be reached here.
“Studies show that there is a contagion factor and when people hear about someone committing suicide they start to get an idea,” continued Lotto,“The challenge for us to is to be aware of people who are struggling and to speak to them about it. Ask them if they’ve heard about it, and if there is anything they want to talk about, engage with them.”
The biggest fear people have about having a conversation with someone around suicide is that by talking about it, they are going to make it happen. “Expressing concern is not predictive, it can be a protective factor. People who commit suicide are in pain and they want to end their pain. Being able to validate what it is they are struggling with is helpful, said Lotto. “Letting them know they are cared for and loved,” is important.
Eight Common Myths about Suicide
- MYTH – Talking about suicide increases the risk that a person will act on it.
- MYTH – People who talk about suicide are just seeking attention
- MYTH – Suicide can’t be prevented
- MYTH – People who take thier own lives are selfish, coward or weak
- MYTH – Teenagers and college students are the most at risk for suicide
- MYTH – Barriers to bridges, safe firearm storage and other actions to reduce access to lethal methods of suicide don’t work
- MYTH – Suicide always occurs without warning.
- MYTH – Talk therapy and medications don’t work.
Common Signs to be on the lookout for
Here are a few common signs that people display with contemplating suicide: Talking about suicide — making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead,” or “I wish I hadn’t been born.”
- Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills.
- Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone.
- Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next.
- Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence.
- Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation.
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.
- Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns.
- Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly.
- Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this.
- Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above.
If a friend or loved one talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe he or she might attempt suicide, don’t try to handle the situation alone:
- Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible.
- Encourage the person to call a suicide hotline number.
In the U.S., call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org to reach a trained counselor. Call 988 and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
You’re not responsible for preventing someone from taking their own life, but your intervention may help them see that other options are available to get help and stay safe.
Lotto and the three other practitioners at the Counseling Collective don’t accept private insurance but refer people to places in Peekskill what do accept insurance such as:
LifeStance (formerly Carmel Psychological), Andrus Mental Health Clinic, Mental Health Association Westchester, Family Services of Westchester, Westchester Jewish Community Services CoveCare Center (formerly Putnam Family and Community Services) Guidance Center of Westchester, Open Path Collective (a website that matches you with sliding scale, low fee therapy $30-$60 per session)
There are some openings for the therapists who practice out of the Counseling Collective. They Collective can be reached at (914) 440-0402 or at counselingcollectivepeekskill.com