Jeremiah Lassiter, a 15-year-old freshman, shot himself in the head in the school bathroom yesterday afternoon. He was a special ed student who, according to students and campus officials, was almost constantly bullied.
Classmate Paige Cummings said the day of Lassiter's suicide kids were throwing food at him. "One of the kids that is here stood up for him, and basically told the other kids throwing things, told them off, told them to stop," Cummings said.
"He was about 6' 4", very big guy, and he never laid a hand on anybody, at least not that I ever heard of or saw, and I saw kids push him to the limits," said teacher Roman Moretti.
"Bullycide" is all too common. A study by Yale University finds that bully victims are two to nine times more likely to report having suicidal thoughts than other kids. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people in the United States.
Kindness starts at home: "The reality is, any kid can become a bully or be victimized themselves, so it's crucial to take preventative measures now," says Ellis. "Bullying is a learned behavior. So when kids see you criticize others ("Can you believe what Jill was wearing?"), they mimic your actions out in the world. What's more, insecurity usually triggers a bully's behavior. So raising confident and empathetic children will have a two-fold effect: Not only will your kids have positive self-esteem, but they'll be more likely to stand up for other kids who are being harassed."
Develop a buddy system: "It's a fact that bullies rarely strike groups -- they just don't have the guts," says Ellis. "If your child is being harassed, make sure he or she walks around school with a friend, or is within earshot of a teacher." If someone does start bullying your kid, have them look the bully in the eye and say, "I don't like your teasing. Stop it right now." Then they should walk away and report the incident. If the bully pushes, teach your kid not to hit back. "Bullies want a reaction, so if the victim reciprocates, the problem will worsen," says Ross.
Take action: "As tempting as it is to sit down with the troublemaker's parents, don't," says Ellis. "Most parents are defensive toward criticism of their child or are in denial there's even a problem." A better idea: Go to the school directly, and record every incident of harassment. Then ask your school to develop an anti-bullying program and form a watchdog group with other parents. "The sad truth is most prevention lies with parents, because most schools just don't take bullying seriously enough."
Do you think Jeremiah's school bullies should be prosecuted?