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Hailey Petee, 11: Bullying leads to suicide

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It’s really not getting any better.  This one is as painful as they come.  Hailey Petee was 11-years-old.  Eleven years old!  The preteen girl from London, Ohio ended her life over the weekend.  Her lifeless body was found by her mother very early Sunday morning.haley peteeI don’t even know where to start.

It is reported that the London, Ohio school district is very proactive when it comes to bullying.  In fact, officials as well as Hailey’s mother have said that the bullying she endured didn’t occur in school or on the school grounds.  Rather, she was apparently severely bullied by middle-schoolers while riding her school bus.  Her mother explains that Hailey was tormented by these middle-schoolers on the school bus as well as around town.  It became so bad, they had to change Hailey’s bus route to avoid them.  Further, she was also restricted on where she could go around town, and with whom.  “She couldn’t even go to the park anymore”, says her grieving mother.  Apparently, even that wasn’t enough.

One of the bullies was an adult, a “neighborhood woman who had a daughter Hailey’s age”:

A neighborhood woman who has a daughter Hailey’s age was charged in October with disorderly conduct and telephone harassment. According to the police report, she had been yelling and cursing at Hailey when she saw the girl outside, and she had been taunting the family on Facebook. (The Columbus Dispatch)Hailey_Petee_CLH

Hailey Petee reportedly hated to wear the thick-framed glasses she was forced to wear in order to see.  They were a source of her harassment.  She was a very pretty young lady, glasses or no.

So, now what?  Here’s a case where the parents were proactive and did what any good parent would do to protect the welfare of their child.  It wasn’t enough.  The school system at least appears to be one of the few proactive systems that actually takes bullying very seriously and takes action when they hear of incidences of bullying.  It wasn’t enough!

Increasingly, people seem to be coming to the realization that one step that has to be implemented is there absolutely has to be some sort accountability placed on these people who are determined to wreak havoc on other people’s lives.  hailey's motherThey know what they’re doing is wrong!  They know what they’re doing is malicious!  They know that bullying is leading some to suicide!  Yet, the continue to do it anyway!  Why?  Well, there’s no one right answer; however, there are a few that comes immediately to mind:

  • they know that there will be no consequences;
  • they just don’t care;
  • no one is taking the time to teach them any better;
  • their older role models (parents, older siblings, older friends) are showing them, by example, that it’s okay to be a bullying.  It doesn’t matter what you do or say to another human being, even if it mean they end up committing suicide.

Dispute any one of those, and I’ll tell you you’re not paying attention to what’s going on.  It’s really that simple.  We are a society in great turmoil.  It’s hard to convince young people that bullying is wrong when they continuously see adults in their lives do it.  Role models.  Parents.  Teachers, in some cases.  Politicians.  Religious leaders.  Look around you!!  There are great examples of “it’s okay to bully others” in our faces every single day…by adults!  I’ll continue to say this until I’m blue in the face that in order to address this epidemic, what must start with the adults.  Period.  There is just no other way out of this.

Even on the facebook blog page, a page that is dedicated to a.) this blog; and, b.) raising anti-bullying awareness, it’s split 60/40, with the 40% being of the “suck-it-up-and-grow-a-backbone” mentality.  That gives you a snapshot of how deep-rooted this problem is.  How can we begin to work on teaching these young people that bullying is just plain wrong, how can we think about saving these young people from ending their lives, if we can’t come together, ourselvesas adults, on finding a solution?  Meanwhile, the young people are watching…and, listening.  And, we’re continuing to see the sad results of our indecisiveness.  WE need to figure this out!

I often get the argument “I was bullied when I was in school, but I didn’t kill myself!  There’s always been bullying.  These kids today are just soft.”  Someone posted a similar comment last night.  My response is worth repeating here:

Yes, make no mistake: bullying has ALWAYS been around…in one form or another. Here’s the difference with today’s kids, and bullying. You and I couldn’t send texts; you and I couldn’t tweet; you and I didn’t have facebook; there was no Ask.fm. WE DIDN’T HAVE THE INTERNET! The Internet has changed EVERYTHING!!! For starters, yes, today’s youth’s coping skills aren’t what ours were back then. You know why? Because they don’t get enough opportunity to interact, read: cope, in REAL LIFE!!!! Everything is OMG!!!, LOL!!!!, etc. These kids live their lives in the cyber-world. So, naturally, their coping skills are lagging from when you and I were in school. (thank GOD there was no Internet back then!!!!) Secondly, and this is important to understand, bullying in our day had a whole different face than bullying does today. I dealt with the schoolyard bullies, push you around, call you names, take your lunch money…the typical stuff back then. Big deal. Once the last bell rang for the day, WE WERE FREE!!!! We went home, we did our homework (maybe), then we were outside playing with our friends. That was then. Once again, today’s youth are cyber-kids. Therefore, bullying has the potential of being a 24/7 ordeal. Texts don’t end at the last bell of the day; tweets don’t stop just because they’re no longer in school; facebook status updates and comments proliferate after school for these kids. The bullying has the potential of NEVER ending!! We absolutely must stop comparing their world to ours if we’re ever going to figure this out. Two completely different worlds! These kids are in serious trouble unless, and until, we adults figure something out.Story haley

We, the adults, are failing these young people miserably.  They looking to us to lead them out of this disaster, and we’re dropping the ball.  Again, and again, and again.  In young Hailey’s case, it seems that everyone actually did do everything they could to prevent it from coming to this.  It just didn’t work out that way.  Now, they must go that next step and identify these youngsters who mercilessly bullied Hailey and make certain that they are held accountable for their actions.  There’s no other way.  As long as they realize that nothing is going to happen to them, they will continue doing what they’re doing.  And, we’ll continue losing one young life after another.  We can do better.  We owe it to this generation to do better.

Rest in peace, Hailey

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Jerad Meriweather, 13: Parents Blame Bullying for Suicide

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” Vibrant”, “prolific writer”, “brilliant mind”.  These are just some of the accolades bestowed upon 13-year-old Jerad Meriweather, who committed suicide Friday, January 18th.jerad meriweatherThe dual dilemma of bullying and bully-related suicides amongst teens is not going away.  Far from it.  We’re actually seeing an acceleration of incidences where bullying has been named as the root cause, or at the very least a contributor, to another teen ending his or her young life.  It’s a runaway train of a broken record.  Worse, the “officials” responses and handling of these cases are both irresponsible and mind-numbingly repetitive.

“There is no record of ______ ever being bullied”.

“Our records show that bullying was not involved in this case.”

Clearly, I could go on and on with the typical responses we hear time and time again.  Meanwhile, we’re seeing case after case of another teen’s life cut short, by their own hand, in which families and friends name bullying as the culprit.  What concerns me is that we are continuing to allow them to get away with being irresponsible in the handling of these cases.jerad meriweather2

Jerad had a circle of close friends whom he cared about deeply and was known to take on their pain and troubles as if they were his own.

Here’s what we know about bullying cases:  there’s rarely a “record on file” of it because these young people are afraid and/or reluctant to come forward with it.  They’re told over and over to “talk to someone”, to “tell a trusted adult”, “talk to your counselor”, all good things, to be sure.  However, what experience teaches them is that even if they do report it, typically one of these three things will happen:

  1. Reporting it will only lead to more bullying, of at a heightened level of intensity;
  2. THEY get labeled the problem, the troublemaker, as if it’s their fault that someone else  lacks so badly in self-control and self-esteem that they have to find others to pick on…typically someone they perceive to be weaker than themselves;
  3. Nothing.  Nothing at all.  I hear over and over and over ad nauseam about cases where the bullied reported it to “the responsible adult” only to have nothing done about it at all.  I guess the solace we could find here is that at least in the event the worst were to happen, there actually would be something “on record”.  

vigil for jeradFar too often, families and friends are having to say goodbye to their young loved one because…well…we, as a society, have yet to figure out how to get a firm grip on the bullying and bully-related suicides.  We’re failing miserably at coming up with a solid plan-of-action that will reduce the roar of bullying and bully-related suicides to a dull murmur.  The cost of that failure is a seemingly endless stream of teen suicides.  Teens, like Jerad Meriweather, who, by all accounts, was a shining star in the making.  At the same time, we must also work harder to understand another common component in teen, or any, suicide:  depression.  Did Jerad deal with depression and bullying.  Well, that question will remain unanswered for a lifetime.  However, according to Gerald, Jerad’s father, his son…

…devoured books and wrote essays that were better than work by adult authors. One essay about depression won Jerad an award at school in October.

 Of course, writing an awarding winning essay about it doesn’t mean that he was dealing with it, himself.  He could’ve very well been looking at it through the eyes of one of his close friends:

Jerad had a circle of close friends whom he cared about deeply and was known to take on their pain and troubles as if they were his own.

“Passionate” is how Gerald Meriweather described his son.  From everything I’ve read about him, “incredible” would have to be added to the many accolades.  It’s maddening that we, as adults, cannot figure a way to prevent this from continuing to happen.  It’s shattering, to me, to continue to see these young faces appear with the word “suicide” attached.  But, it’s heart-wrenching to see that we, as a society and as adults!, we’re still failing so miserably at preventing this to happen.  They deserve so much more.  They deserve a lifetime.

Rest in peace, Jerad.

Duncan Ballard, 14: Family Says Suicide Was Due to Bullying

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On New Year’s Day, 14-year-old Duncan Ballard ended his life.  The family of the eighth-grader says that his suicide was the result of bullying.

Duncan Alexander BallardIt’s hard to imagine that, in the year 2013, with all of the glory of the Internet and the “Information Age”, non-stop 24/7 news outlets, and social networks that, at times, supersedes the news outlets, that we are still trying to figure out how to put an end to the bullying that is causing teens to end their lives.  It been said here to the point of repetitiveness that anyone, anyone!!, who doesn’t know by now that bullying is at the root of far-too-many teen suicides either has their head buried (fill in your own expression completion), or they just flat-out don’t care.  Either case is problematic.

Stories continue to pour in, on a daily basis, to the facebook blog page telling about being bullied, sometimes severely so.  And, almost always, the stories are pretty much the same:  They’re getting bullied at school; the teachers/school administrators pretty much turn a blind eye and do nothing; depression is followed by self-harm (in one way or another).  And, sadly, sometimes it comes to this.  Yet, even when it does come to this, STILL nothing is done.  It’s as if today’s youth are expendable.  They’re not.  Not by a long shot.

Duncan’s family described him as different, loving, smart.  Creative.  He was a songwriter and liked to write and sing his songs.  He was also, they say, being “picked on” both at school and at home by his peers.  New Year’s Day, he reached his breaking point.  He went to the upstairs of his family’s house and ended his life.

As for the responses from both the school administration and the Marion police department, you can recite their answers from memory.  It doesn’t change much.

So, then, what IS the answer?  How do we even begin to get across to these young schoolyard bullies that their behavior is a.) unacceptable; and, b.) causing severe harm and even death?  How do we get them to care!!??  How do we get the officials to change their mindset and approach when it comes to bullying?  How do we get them to care!?  And, how do we get the bullying victims, themselves, to understand that they’re stronger than they realize, that this incredibly cruel and sometimes even criminal behavior they’re enduring now will definitely pass?  It’s unfortunate that in 2013 there are still so many unanswered questions.  It’s even more unfortunate that there are still young people who are ending their lives because of the actions of a few, actions that there are no repercussions for!!!!  

Duncan Ballard should still be here, writing and singing his songs.  Putting smiles on people’s faces, and in their hearts.  Instead, some mean-spirited, perhaps even hateful kids chose him to pick on, to exercise their own low self-esteem on.  They pushed him to the end of his young rope.  Worse, there will be no consequences for their actions.  Count on it.  And, before you naysayers chime in with the “nobody-made-him-end-his-life; he-chose-to-do-that” rhetoric, save it for some of the parents of some of these young suicide victims where bullying was involved.  I’m certain they’d have a thing or two to say to you about it.

Rest in peace, Duncan.  I sure wish I could’ve heard some of your music.

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Jessica Laney, 16: Ask.fm Named in Yet Another Teen Suicide

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Sunday night, December 9th, 16-year-old Jessica Laney ended her young life.  Friends say cyberbullying endured on the infamous website Ask.fm was at the root of the suicide.  That’s strike three!Jessica LaneyI don’t know which is more maddening:  the fact that now three teenagers that we know about have ended their lives after enduring relentless cyberbullying on the same website, or that the officials in this case are reciting the same road-weary lines that we hear time after time.

“Our thoughts and prayers go to the Jessica Marie Laney’s family as they deal with their loss.  (Pasco County Sheriff’s Office) is not aware of any formal complaint to the Pasco School District or PSO about her being bullied,” said Doug Tobin, Public Information Officer for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

Ask.fm is under fire, and rightfully so.  In just the past three months, three teenaged girls have ended their lives because of reportedly being severely cyberbullied on the website…a website where one can post and comment anonymously, leaving them free to menace, harass, and abuse without fear of retribution.  Obviously, there’s a problem afoot that needs to be addressed.  The question is, however, “how do we go about addressing it in a way that will be effective?  Do we call for the website to simply be shut down?  There’s a petition circulating right now that calls for exactly that.  If you believe that’s the answer, here’s the link for you to go and sign the petition.  Will shutting down the beleaguered website solve the problem?  Or, will the guilty parties simply find other websites to go to with their menacing activities?  In all likelihood, the latter would come into play.  And, that presents a bigger, even more realistic problem that we’re seemingly overlooking:  these young people who are continuing to do this have absolutely no regard for human life and need to be held accountable.  But, then, there’s the issue of the parents of those who do the bullying.

Listen, here’s breaking news for all who don’t already know it:  there is a two-headed epidemic in our society today that’s decimating today’s young generation:  bullying and bully-related suicides.  Apparently, that news has yet to reach a portion of our population because, with as much as bullying and bully-related teen suicide is in the news, these occurrences are not only continuing to happen, they are increasing in both numbers and intensity.  For these kids to be posting comments like “why don’t you go kill yourself?” or “nobody even likes you, anyway” or “everybody would be better off if you were dead” even though bullying, cyberbullying, and bully-related teen suicide are all in the news regularly, one can only draw one conclusion:  they don’t give a damn about human life.  And, that level of indifference can only point back to the homes.

Will holding these troubled young people legally responsible for cases of bullying and bully-related suicide make a difference?  We can look at New Jersey for answers.  With one of the nation’s toughest anti-bullying laws on the books, the teens responsible in the Lennon Baldwin bully-related suicide were charged and jailed for the bullying that led up to the suicide.  In fact, an attack on Lennon by one of the three young men was caught on video.  The two juveniles involved were sentenced to two years probation, which sounds like a wrist slap, to be sure, but it keeps them on a short leash for the next two years.  The third person, an adult at the time of the assault and consequent bullying that pushed Lennon over the edge, is still awaiting his fate.  Is this what is needed to, once-and-for-all, bring this chapter to an end?  Or, is this just putting a bandage on a gaping wound?

Then, there’s the parents.  The reality is that when the shit hits the fan and someone is actually forced to answer for their actions, there’s always a parent, or parents, who quickly utters the “my-child-would-never-do-anything-to-harm-anyone” clause.  Human nature, perhaps, yet reckless and irresponsible in these cases.

What’s needed are wholesale changes in how we are going about this.  We can continue to talk about it until we’re blue in the face.  It’s not changing anything!  We can continue to shake our heads and say all of the appropriate catch-phrases that comes along with these tragedies.  Pick one.  It’s not changing anything!!  First and foremost, in every school and in every home across the country (and, around the world!), we have to have sit-down, face-to-face, honest dialogue about what’s going on and what definitive steps we can take, starting today!, to prevent it from continuing.  WHATEVER IT TAKES!!!  Secondly, as it continues to happen from this day forward, there needs to be real accountability and real consequences.  Period.  I mean, come on, is it really acceptable, at this stage of the game, to hear a young person utter the meaningless words “I (we) were just playing around.  I (we) didn’t mean for him/her to do this.”? Emphatically, the answer is no!  It is not acceptable, if only for the simple reason that we’ve seen this in the news and on social media sites long enough now to have a full understanding that this is a serious problem…an epidemic.  And, real lives are being lost.  And, finally, it’s time to hold these law enforcement agencies and school officials’ feet to the fire.  They’re getting off completely scot-free!  “Our records indicates no reports of bullying”.  Not acceptable.  Dig deeper.  Work harder.  Erase that culture you’ve helped create that allows these youngsters to feel comfortable in continuing to bully and cyberbully even as it continues to lead to teenagers ending their lives.  As long as they understand that there will be no real consequences, they have no compelling reason to change their behaviors.Jessica_Laney3_517219795For the sake of Jessica Laney, and the far-too-many who have gone before her, it’s time to quit talking about how sad, how outrageous this is and start doing some things that will bring this scourge to a screeching halt.

Rest in peace, Jessica.

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Joshua David Pacheco, 17: Bullied Because of Being Gay

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Tuesday, November 27th, I received this from the creator of Wipe Out Homophobia.  It was sent to him from one of his members:

Today my friend’s good friend, a seventeen year old boy by the name of Josh, killed himself after being continuously bullied for being gay. Josh had his whole life ahead of him, but the ignorant and hateful words of others caused that to be taken away from him. How many people need to die before this world realizes that something is wrong with the way we are treating people?! The constitution states that every human being has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Josh was as human as any of the rest of us, yet he was stripped of all of those rights. This needs to change. No matter gay, straight, or anything else, we all are human, and therefore must all stand up for equal human rights. Please, think before you speak, and make an effort to stand up for those around you. Together we can put a stop to this. Rest in peace, Josh. ♥♥josh pachecoJosh was a junior at Linden High School.  His mother describes him as:

“…very sensitive, to others’ needs and feelings but also to his own,” He gave his whole self fully to any person he could.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough as boys from his school constantly and severely bullied Josh until he couldn’t take it anymore.  In talking to the person who originally alerted me about this tragedy, Rachelle, I was able to learn from one of his close friends, through Rachelle, some of the horrors he had to endure.

All I know is that he was bullied in our theatre class by three boys. He felt very uncomfortable. One even went as far as to tell him he spent a lot of time on his knees. He wouldn’t tell everyone who all of them were.josh pacheco2

“That, in and of itself, does constitute bullying although it doesn’t really seem as though it would be enough to push Josh, or anyone over the edge”, is what some would probably say to those charges.  And, on one level, I guess it would make sense.  However, when you add that to other direct information, coming from one of Josh’s friends, it’s a lot easier to understand why he felt he had no other choice:

[members of] the Linden football team pushed him around, [urinated] on him and taped him to his locker.

That action is reprehensible and repulsive.  More to the point, there are obviously people – or, at least one person! – who knows about this.  It is incumbent upon that person, or those people, to come forward with any and all information they have pertaining to this.  Those boys who did this need to be held accountable.  Their actions caused another human being to end his life.  It’s not enough to say that their karma will take care of it.  They need to be dealt with in the here and now.  Anything less is unacceptable.

“Josh would never give us names. He was so intimidated by these kids who picked on him,” Josh’s father, said. “If he would have given me or the school details, we would have handled it. Don’t be afraid to speak out. You need to tell people what’s going on.”

This has gone on far too long!  We’re all aware of the devastating effects bullying can have on people, especially teens!  The “STOP BULLYING!” conversation has been going on long enough, and in enough different forums, that I’m fully, 100% convinced that a.) it’s impossible for any human being with a shred of intelligence to not know what’s going on and what it’s causing; and, b.) those who continue to engage in these actions are simply, and clearly, saying that they just don’t give a rat’s ass about the potential outcome.  And, with that being the case, and seeing the death toll continue to mount, explain to me, slowly so that I can understand it, why these people are not being held accountable?

“He told me he felt like he wasn’t good enough. He said if he lost weight he would be happy,” Joshua’s mother said. “But he wasn’t. Then, he said if he came out [as a homosexual], he would be happy. Then, it was if the kids at school stopped teasing him. He came to me and said he still didn’t feel happy. I realized then it wasn’t something, being a mom, that I could fix.”

These “kids” are being allowed to engage in actions that are completely devastating lives.  Not only are their actions leading to suicides, there are countless families and friends whose lives are being decimated.  How is it fair that they are continuously given a free pass?  In this case, where there is at least one person who knows for certain who was doing this to Joshua Pacheco, it is imperative to bring that information to the light.  Knowing that someone taped another human to their locker and urinated on them is simply not something to be kept secret, especially now that we know what those actions have led to.

What we’re seeing today is a generation of young people who simply don’t care about people around them or, in some cases, human life in general.  Certainly not the entire generation, but enough to have an impact.  And, we’re seeing the drastic consequences on a near-daily basis.  One of my treasured associates had this to say, just moments ago as a comment on yet another post about yet another teen who had been bullied to the point of ending his life:

The several known kids who bullied Jamey Rodemeyer, who died 9/18/2011, were subjects of a criminal investigation. The result: five-day suspensions from school. They had hard evidence of online posts telling him to kill himself, AND, the kids were still bullying him after his death. His sister went to a school dance not too long after Jamey’s death, and when Jamey’s favorite song came on, the bullies began chanting “You’re better off dead! We’re glad you’re dead!” This whole situation has long since reached the point of being unbelievably horrible. Yet this country is like the proverbial frog in a pot of heating water–we’ve gradually gotten so used to the deadly situation that we don’t even notice death.

You know we’ve become a desensitized society when the youth of our society have no problem committing acts that they know can lead to another person’s death yet continue doing it.  Often times even after their victim has ended their life.  How is it that we’re okay with this being who we’ve become as a people?

So sorry this had to happen to you, Josh.  Rest in peace.joshua pacheco

David Q. Phan, 14, Death by Suicide

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Thursday, November 29th, 14-year-old David Phan had a meeting, along with his mother, with the school principal.  They left school together around 1:30 p.m.  Around 3:00, David returned to a skybridge near Bennion Junior High School, where he was a 9th grader, and committed suicide in front of schoolmates and a few parents.david phanAs police and school officials are, once again, downplaying to allegations that David had been bullied, students who went to school with him and knew him offer a completely different story:

“He was nice to everyone, even if sometimes people weren’t nice to him,” says a fellow ninth-grader.

“I just don’t understand why people can bully him and be OK with it,” said another student. “He was a really sweet kid and didn’t hurt anybody. He didn’t do anything wrong”

“They were just mean to him for no reason,” said yet another.

So, it’s apparent that those around him on a daily basis understood that David was, indeed, being bullied.  For what reason remains a mystery at the point.  What’s also apparent is that, once again, the police and school officials are, at least at this early stage, letting another teen suicide with bullying implications slip through the cracks.

“He was one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever known,” said yet another fellow ninth-grader.

He remembered when the teen had bought him a drink and never expected to be paid back for it.  But other students picked on him, this student went on to say. His classmates and friends said he was bullied and called names at school.phan2These are real-life people, schoolmates and parents, sharing real-life unimaginable grief because some people still find it okay to be abusive, be insulting, be exclusionary, to…bully.  They have no regard for the pain and destruction that they know they’re causing.  They don’t give a good damn that some of these young people are ending their own lives behind the senselessness of bullying.  They flat-out do.  not.  care.  One reason for the nonchalance is they aren’t seeing any sort of consequences for this behavior anywhere!!!phanAnd, because there are no consequences anywhere, ever, for these cases of bullying that lead to suicide, scenes like this are being played out every single day somewhere around the world.

“Our investigation hasn’t found any indication of bullying….”  Sound familiar?

Because no one is ever held accountable, not ever, in these cases, the young people who do the bullying have become emboldened in their actions.  Emboldened, their troubling behavior continues even as it continues to contribute to the growing number of teen suicides.  You don’t think the number is growing (over last year)?  So far this school year, I’ve personally reported on now-40 teen suicides.  That’s just since the end of August.  But, wait.  That number doesn’t account for the additional 5-6 that I know occurred but was never able to gather any information.  That includes two right here in my own backyard.  Worst still, that 40 only represents the ones that I’ve reported on.  Make no mistake:  there have been at least that many more that we haven’t heard about.  And still, with all of the statistical data right there for us all to review, with the hundreds, perhaps thousands!, of family members and friends who are left to grieve and struggle and wonder every single day for the rest of their own lives because our society still condones the actions that lead these teens to commit suicide.  Condones?  Yes, condones.  By remaining silent, or sweeping it under the proverbial rug, or simply turning a blind eye, you are condoning the behavior.  

Something, obviously, was going terribly wrong with David Phan.  His mother and he met with the principal, in a closed-door meeting, the day of his suicide.  Upon leaving the meeting to go home with his mother, David was checked for weapons.  Something, obviously, was going terribly wrong with David Phan.

Of course, the police and school administrators report “no sign of bullying”.

Are you getting angry, yet?  You should be.

So, once again I say, to you David Phan, I’m sorry that we, as a society, let you down.  You should be enjoying those friends who loved you so much and getting ready for Christmas.  Rest in peace.

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Lara Burns, 12: Cyberbullying Claims Another Victim

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I need to put this in perspective…for myself:  I host a weekly Open Mic locally.  On a couple of occasions, the 12-year-old daughter of my band’s bassist has come and performed there.  Very talented.  To look at her, my first thought was “my goodness!  Twelve years old is so young!”  And, that, it is.  That’s what makes this so heartbreaking.story images_Lara_Burns_684400751Over the weekend, 12-year-old Lara Burns-Gibbs, from Kilcock in Co. Kildare, in Ireland, ended her life.  It is believed that she had endured cyberbullying.

I’m just going to say right here that if I had a young teenager, male or female, in today’s world, they would have one of two options:

  1. Only use the Internet on a computer that is in an open, common room where anyone, at any given time, could be able to monitor what’s going on.  And, the computer itself would have every parental control available to me in use;  or,
  2. They simply wouldn’t be allowed to use the Internet for anything other than school work.  Cell phones?  No texting capabilities.

Too much is at stake in today’s world for me to handle it any other way.  I just heard from a mother, just today, of a beautiful young girl who committed suicide earlier this year after enduring cyberbullying, and she told of how tough of a time she was having right now.  It’s her first holiday season without her beautiful young daughter since she arrived in this world 14 years ago.  My heart broke when I read that, but I can certainly understand.  No parent should be going through what she, and (unfortunately) many other parents of teen suicide victims are going through.  Yet, here I am once again, writing about yet another young person who ended their life after being bullied.  Where does it end?  Where do we begin?

At Lara’s funeral, Father David Halpin had this to say:

suicide is not the answer to pain and only causes greater suffering.  Those feelings do pass. We are here today because a very young girl did not know that.  She was too young to know that the pain does not last, too young to know that whatever was troubling her was not permanent.  She was too young to know that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

He added: “Perhaps by planning to die by suicide she was bringing an end to pain.  But it has had the opposite effect — it has multiplied pain, hurt and suffering and brought devastation to her family.  Suicide should never be seen as an answer because it’s not an answer.  Please, please do not ever think suicide is the answer. Seeking help is the only answer.  She was too young to understand that suicide cannot be reverse.

That sobering statement holds validity.  On the other side of the coin, even as we make every effort imaginable to protect these young people from being bullied, both online and in their daily lives, at some point we have to stop coddling the perpetrators, as well as the enablers, and start holding people accountable.  Period.  In the cases of bullying where it leads to a suicide, well, that’s no difference than getting into a physical altercation with someone, having that someone fall and violently bang their head on the concrete, and subsequently dying from that injury.  Your actions lead to that person’s death and, as such, you’re held accountable.  This is no different.  If the actions of the bully, or cyberbully, ends with the bullying victim committing suicide, that person (or, persons) is just as culpable as the person is who threw the punch that caused that person to fall, bang his/her head on the concrete, and subsequently die from the injury.  It’s really just that simple.  Someone needs to be held accountable!!!  The perpetrator(s) needs to be held accountable; the enabler(s) need to be held accountable.

Let’s get real:  there is absolutely no way that anyone with even a single working brain cell doesn’t know by now that bullying is causing enormous harm and, in many cases, death; therefore, for these people to continue with their bullying actions is for them to say that they flat-out don’t give a damn if the person they are antagonizing kills themselves.  It’s really as simple as that.  And, that is absolutely not okay.

Lara’s grieving mother delivered this message, through the parish priest, Father Liam Rigney:

 Never be ashamed to go for help.  We just do not know why, and we will never know why, Lara took her own life. We will never know what was in her poor head. What we do know is her decision has devastated so many people, especially her family. So many lives have been torn apart and devastated.

This is real.  Parents are grief-stricken.  Families are often torn apart.  Friends are shattered.  And, what’s really troubling me, personally, is that it’s showing no signs of getting any better any time soon.  We’ve got a lot of work to do if we’re to reverse this trend:

  1. It’s essential that we devise a way to protect these young people from being constantly bullied and/or cyber-bullied.  If that means severely restricting their telecommunications access, so be it.  Having them alive and pouting trumps what we’re seeing as an alternative; and,
  2. It’s time to start holding some feet to the fire.  There has to, has to, has to!!!! be some accountability.  It’s really that simple.

My heart goes out to Lara’s grief-stricken family and friends.  And, to you, Lara, may you rest in peace.

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