Concussion considered in teen athlete's suicide

The suicide of a Brentsville District High School football player who friends say recently suffered a concussion follows high-profile suicides of collegiate and professional football players that have raised questions about links between brain trauma and mental health.

Austin Trenum hanged himself Sunday afternoon, Sgt. Kim Chinn, a Prince William County police spokeswoman, said Tuesday. He was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he died about 2 a.m. Monday, she said.

The death of Trenum — who also played lacrosse and was the son of county school board member Gil Trenum — has left his family and friends in shock.

Students said Trenum was believed to have suffered a concussion during Friday's football game, but county schools spokesman Ken Blackstone said he didn't know the nature of the injury.

Friends remembered Trenum as a quiet teenager with a sense of humor who worked hard on the football and lacrosse fields and was a good example to his younger brothers.

“His willingness to smile at anything was my favorite trait about him,” Rande Cherry, a former lacrosse teammate who was two years older than Trenum, wrote in an e-mail.

Tyler Robb, who was captain of the Brentsville varsity lacrosse team last year, called Trenum a “hard working and genuine guy” who was “always having fun.”

In a letter to Brentsville students and parents, Principal Robert Scott called Trenum “a talented athlete, a bright scholar, a student leader, and a good friend to his classmates and teammates.”

Trenum's death comes in the wake national attention on issues surrounding young athletes, concussions and suicide.

A brain autopsy on Owen Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania football player who killed himself in April, showed that he had the beginnings of a trauma-induced disease found in more than 20 deceased professional players and linked to depression and impulse control.

Last week, Denver Broncos wide receiver Kenny McKinley killed himself. He had been battling to return from a severe injury.

Thomas' mother testified this month at congressional hearings about a bill that would require K-12 schools to implement concussion education and management plans.

Improving safety is important because repetitive head trauma is associated with mental health issues, said Robert Stern, a Boston University neurology professor.

“There's definitely a link between brain trauma and depression and other symptoms that are associated with suicide, but there's no way to ever draw a direct line between the brain trauma or the disease and the individual's suicide,” he said.

ebabay@washingtonexaminer.com

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