NORTHPORT, N.Y. -- Six members of the same high school class were diagnosed with cancer after toxins were reportedly found in the soil near the local middle school.
The New York State Department of Health is investigating incidents of cancer in adults and children in Long Island's Northport School District, particularly in graduates of the Northport High School Class of 2016.
Last month, school district officials closed Northport Middle School amid concerns over toxins that were found in soil samples.
Karen Paquet, whose son Caleb Paquet was diagnosed with leukemia just two months after graduating from Northport High School in June 2016, said the diagnosis was a shock to the whole family.
"Caleb was strong as an ox," she said.
Caleb died on August 9, 2017, less than a year after receiving his diagnosis.
"I watched him suffer, but he never complained," she said. "He always was persistent, resilient."
Paquet recalled that a few months into Caleb's treatment, she received alarming news.
"Somebody called me and said, 'Did you know there's another graduate from 2016, and she's sick?'" Paquet said. "I was like, 'Really?'"
Then Paquet heard about another student with leukemia, Angela DiMaso, who graduated with Caleb.
DiMaso said she herself has at least three friends who were diagnosed with leukemia.
"It kind of felt like one after another, people were being diagnosed that I knew of," DiMaso said.
The state Department of Health said it's received at least six reports of cancer cases, primarily leukemia, in graduates of the Northport High School Class of 2016.
"The department is now expanding its cancer incidence investigation to look at cancers over a longer time period and to look at cancers among children and adults in the entire school district," officials said in a statement to our sister station WABC-TV. "The investigation will include all types of cancer among all ages, with a focus on young people and young adults. It will review whether there are cancer elevations among residents of the school district as a whole, certain geographic areas within the school district, in specific timeframes, or within specific age groups."
Paquet applauded the state for launching an investigation.
"I don't think the way it happened to these children, you know, was due to negligence," she said. "I just think suddenly now the information came available, our knowledge has changed. So what we do with that knowledge is what's important."
The superintendent of the school district, Robert Banzer, said the decision to close the middle school had nothing to do with the state investigation, which was already underway.
"The district supports this study and will fully cooperate with the NYSDOH as they conduct the research," Banzer said.
The health department said the investigation will take approximately one year to complete.
"The sooner they can do it the better," DiMaso said. "To help possibly save kids' lives."