Student school board member Jay Witcher fought back tears last week, speaking about the death of his Glen Burnie High School classmate, Nikki Preston.
"I thought no one cared about what happened to Nikki," Mr. Witcher said at last week's Board of Education meeting. "I'd known Nikki since the seventh grade. I'm just glad someone else cares."
Miss Preston, 16, died July 30 of a heart attack after inhaling butane in a Brooklyn apartment.
The man to whom he was speaking, County Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, yesterday joined School Superintendent C. Berry Carter II, County Medical Examiner Dr. William Jones and the county police in announcing that a public service message is being prepared for the first day of school, to warn students about the dangers of inhaling butane and other substances.
The 30- to 45-second announcement will be heard in all county schools Aug. 31, the first day students return to school. The announcement will stress that inhalant abuse is deadly and no safer than the abuse of alcohol or other drugs.
Following Miss Preston's death, family members learned from friends that she and other teens had been inhaling butane for some time. County police said so many teen-agers were buying the gas that people seeking to purchase butane on the weekends -- for their lighters or gas grills -- often were out of luck.
Mr. Middlebrooks said The young woman was friends with his 15-year-old daughter, Jennifer. He said he had no idea Miss Preston was inhaling butane.
"This just tells how isolated as adults we can get," he said.
"My daughter is still crying herself to sleep at night because she knew and she didn't tell anyone," Mr. Middlebrooks said. "Now she's got to live with that for the rest of her life. No one should have to deal with that."