Man killed by Caltrain had written about depression while at Gunn High

Daily Post Staff Writer

The 22-year-old man who was killed by a Caltrain in Palo Alto had struggled with depression for years and wrote about it in the student newspaper when he was at Gunn High School.

Tone Yao Lee, 22, of Palo Alto, was found dead on the tracks near the Charleston Road crossing on Tuesday, authorities said.

Lee, who graduated from Gunn High School in 2017 and attended Santa Clara University, had struggled with depression for years, according to an essay he wrote in 2016 for the school’s newspaper, the Gunn Oracle.

In that essay, Lee talked about the importance of saying “I’m not OK” and getting help from others. He said he was deeply impacted by the suicides of three friends in less than a year.

Between June 2009 and March 2015, nine people who were either students or graduates of Gunn committed suicide.

Lee appeared in a documentary called “The Edge of Success,” which explored suicide clusters in Palo Alto from the perspective of local high school students.

Lee was born in Singapore and lived most of his life in the Bay Area, he would later say in his bio.

He traveled to China, France and Canada, and helped build homes and paint buildings on service trips to Guatemala and Mexico his sophomore and junior year. He had a three-legged dog named Cooper and enjoyed sports video games, comedy TV shows, hip-hop music, the Golden State Warriors and the Detroit Lions.

Help is out there

If you or someone you know are having a mental health crisis, call 988.


  1. A beautiful human; my heart is broken for his family,friends and for the loss of a life that was immensely important to this world.

  2. It is heartbreaking to lose a life so young. I went to Palo Alto High School. I have had issues with depression myself. Later in life got seriously depressed and eas in hospital for a week. I had counselimg and medication
    I still take medication. I have not been on the hospital since then 2007. Get help if your depressed. It will get better.

  3. If you really care about the loss of this young man’s life and his family’s grief, please do more to educate yourself about mental health services in our region and the true lack or inadequacy of services that are available and help advocate for more funding to expand services to all those in need.

  4. So sorry to learn about Tone. My kids went to Gunn at the same time. It hurts to learn about bright kids like him.

    I thought we stopped these events with the guard by the tracks and now all the cameras and alert systems. It failed us and now we have another loss that could have been avoided.

  5. I went to Gunn and SCU. I didn’t talk to Tone much in high school as we did not share social circles, yet he would always say hi to me if we ever ran into one another at SCU. A very gregarious person with a much bigger heart than mine. I can say with certainty that he was a genuinely positive force in his community. A sad day.

  6. Thank you for writing about Tone in such a kind and caring way. I know the usual tendency of people is to deny a suicide happened and lash out at anybody who talks about it. But people who feel depressed should understand that there is hope out there. And despite the people in the community who are in denial, there are others who want to help. There should be no stigma associated with getting help.

  7. Quit dissing the parents. A therapist can only do so much. People with clinical depression go into depths of depression like most of us can’t understand. The guards at the tracks were worthless when we had them. Some burglarized houses and they were not allowed to intervene if someone was attempting suicide. It was just for appearances and a complete waste of money. The cameras cannot be relied upon either; it would take too long for anyone to save someone.

    • I realize “Alias” is nothing more than a troll, but if he had bothered to look at the data regarding suicides going back to 2009, he’d find that the presence of a parent or a hired security guard at a crossing did more to deter suicides and suicide attempts than anything else Palo Alto has tried. Yes, the security guards were burglars and worse. That’s because the City can oversee anything. Management at 250 Hamilton is a joke. But encountering real person makes those considering suicide think twice, and the data shows that’s what it takes.

  8. Can’t imagine the heartbreak of his family. He sounds like he was an amazing guy. He had an amazing smile. Depression wins some battles but we cannot let it win the war. Rest in eace

  9. I knew Tone in high school and he was always super kind to me, and everyone who knew him.

    I hope he can rest peacefully now.

  10. I met Tone when he was in middle school and I was one of the Assistant Principals. He was a friendly and respectful student leader. This news breaks my heart. Rest In Peace, Tone. My condolences to his family.

  11. I’m so heartbroken to lear of Tone’s passing. He was a student of mine, I taught him how to drive. We had some great conversations and I will always remember his smile, his laugh, his openness. He was a very sweet young man. I feel for his family and friends.

  12. Tone was such a light. i’m going to remember his smile a lot and think back to how welcome it made me feel at Gunn as a kid with few friends. It felt nice to have someone like Tone who cared. I think it really hurts to think that he won’t be around anymore.

  13. I remember Tone from band class in middle school. He wished me happy birthday and that’s when I found out our birthdays were only a few days apart. I ended up on his FB page earlier this year and saw all the great work he was doing for charity. My biggest regret is that I did not reach out to him and ask how he was doing. Depression is so easily masked and I’m so sorry to find out that he had been suffering from it for so long. Rest in paradise, Tone. You truly deserved the world – love and prayers to your family.

  14. Suicide is always tragic and leaves a gaping hole in the lives of those left behind.

    However, by leading with statements like “The 22-year-old man who was killed by a Caltrain in Palo Alto . . .” implies that CalTrain, specifically the engineer, *swerved* to deliberately kill the person.

    This is a one-sided and, frankly, calloused approach to the article. As a long-time CalTrain commuter, I have known many of the engineers who were forced to hit a person standing (or driving) on the tracks; some were deliberate suicides and some were accidents. In every case, the engineer was absolutely *devastated*, and some engineers were affected so deeply that just quit and found other vocations.

    CalTrain trains travel at over 80 mph (more than 120 feet per SECOND), they are HEAVY (HUNDREDS of tons), so they have incredible momentum — they cannot “stop on a dime”, it takes 1/4 mile to stop a “Baby Bullet”. Add to this that the engineer can’t exactly swerve off the tracks to avoid someone and one must come to the only logical conclusion — “suicide by train” is not avoidable by the engineer.

    Again, this loss of life is absolutely tragic, given that it was a deliberate choice. But it was the deliberate choice of the victim, not of the CalTrain engineer. Journalists, please stop leading with statements like “The 22-year-old man who was killed by a Caltrain in Palo Alto . . .” and start leading with something more accurate like “A 22-year-old committed suicide by standing in front of an oncoming Caltrain in Palo Alto . . .”

    • Scott sounds like the one who is “calloused”. Nobody thinks trains intentionally hit people. But Scott, in a creepy way, tries to blame the victim. And he wants journalists to write something other than the truth to support his weird viewpoint. This is a tragedy for Tone, his family and friends. Scott, butt out!

  15. Scott, can you be any more condescending? You really think there are people who think a train can swerve?

    Yep, you’re the only person who knows that!

    • Agreed! There is absolutely nothing in the article or title that could be interpreted as placing blame on the driver. Aside from being illogical, Scott’s comment was completely unnecessary as a response to an article that mainly serves to honor Tone’s memory.

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