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Henderson, NV – A man has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after a teenage girl’s suicide on a hiking trail in Henderson was linked to a series of disturbing text messages he sent to her before she died. A jury on Friday heard that David Leopold’s daughter, Alexis, was a talented student but had a rocky relationship with her mother. On the night she died, Alexis texted Leopold to say, “I am at the end of my rope.
She was a good student and worked at the high school football stadium, but she was constantly having trouble with her mother, she told Leopold. “We had a lot of arguments,” Leopold told the jury. Leopold said Alexis was depressed, which he attributed to a recent divorce, his new girlfriend’s pregnancy, and bullying by other students. As she got older, he said, Alexis began to complain about feeling inadequate in school. When Alexis was in seventh grade, she wrote him an email stating, “I will never get better in high school because I am a failure in math,” Leopold said.
He said she was so upset by the email that he considered changing schools, but Alexis didn’t want to move, so they just tried to work things out. The first year of high school was particularly bad for Alexis. “I think her depression got worse,” Leopold testified. “My daughter was not happy with her life.” The teen’s school grades declined, and her attendance was poor. Leopold told the jury Alexis would often miss school in the mornings and that she spent a lot of time with her friends after school. It was a different story for Leopold. He was constantly busy with his career in telecommunications and spent only five or six nights a week at home with his daughter.
Leopold often felt overburdened as a parent. “I thought I was doing everything for her,” he said. One day in late 2008, Leopold went to his daughter’s bedroom to get some work out of her room. When he opened the door, he found Alexis lying on the floor in a bathrobe with a can of shaving cream and some Q-tips. He thought she was getting ready for a haircut, he testified. After this incident, Leopold called the child’s psychiatrist, who recommended that she begin seeing a new therapist.
Still, Leopold knew that his daughter needed to be evaluated for suicidal thoughts and depression. But Alexis was reluctant to go for help. “When Alexis was 15 years old, she was going through puberty and it was a period of time when many kids become depressed,” he said. “It was very tough for her to get help.”
The first time Alexis talked about suicide, Leopold was stunned. “How could my daughter think that?” he said. “She knows she can’t do that.” The second time, her message was clearer. “Suicide is a solution,” Leopold said.
Over the next few years, Leopold and his wife tried to work through the issues that had caused Alexis to lash out. “I don’t know how to explain it but sometimes Alexis would say, ‘If I was going to kill myself, I would do it now,’ ” he said.
In May 2010, two years after the first incident, Leopold took his daughter to one of her therapists. This time, the therapist told Leopold he should take her to a psychologist to get help for her and for himself.
On June 4, 2011, just a few weeks after her 18th birthday, Leopold took his daughter to a psychiatrist, who prescribed antidepressants. In her room, Leopold found a journal she had kept. “Her writing was so emotional, it almost hurt,” he said.
In her journal, Alexis wrote of feeling trapped and ashamed. She wrote of “wanting to die and feeling I would never get my life straightened out.” She wrote that she was tired of the pain and tired of living. “My life is in pieces,” she wrote. “I don’t know how to piece it together.”
That night, Alexis told her father that she didn’t want to live anymore. The next morning, Alexis woke her parents and said that she had checked herself into a psychiatric facility. She took her father to see her psychiatrist, where they talked about her depression. Then Leopold drove his daughter to Columbia University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, where she was placed on medication and given therapy.
Soon, Leopold went to see his daughter. “She was still very depressed, but she wasn’t so angry anymore,” he said. “We talked about what she could do to improve her mental health.” The conversation about suicide helped them bond.
“I had a chance to bond with her through a very painful time,” he said.
By this time, the Columbia University Medical Center had diagnosed Alexis with major depression and anxiety. She was placed in a program that offered group therapy and individual therapy, along with medication and an after-school job in the hospital’s laundry.
Leopold was impressed by the progress she was making. “There’s a difference between depression and hopelessness,” he said. “She had a chance to recover.”
In March, the family was celebrating the two-year anniversary of Alexis’s death. “It was one of the happiest days of our lives,” Leopold said. He had started a fundraising campaign to raise money for mental health initiatives for teenagers, specifically around suicide prevention.
The family has raised about $10,000 so far, he said. Their goal is to raise $20,000 to create a life-size bronze sculpture of Alexis to display at Columbia University’s Rose Center for Public Leadership.
The goal is to honor Alexis’s memory, Leopold said, while simultaneously raising funds for research into mental health and suicide.
“We’re not trying to just remember a person,” he said. “We want to honor this person, to make a connection with others and to raise the awareness about a serious topic.”
Alexis was so vibrant, smart and funny, Leopold said. “She knew how to be happy,” he said.
This year, Leopold decided to make the drive to New York in time for National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
“The thing that moved me most when we went to meet with