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Another Tragic Bullycide

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11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, a sixth grader, was taunted mercilessly by school bullies. His mom did everything she could to stop it ... but he committed suicide last week. How can we prevent something like this from happening again?

carl joseph walker hoover dies of bullycide suicide

Sanjay Chandra: The kids at Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover's school taunted him constantly. His mom says her son's classmates called him gay on a daily basis, made fun of his clothes and threatened to harm him, according to the Springfield Republican.

This horrific tragedy brings to mind the death of 15-year-old Lawrence King, an openly gay 8th grader allegedly shot to death by a fellow male student who he asked to be his Valentine. That was classified as a hate crime.

Ironically, today would have been Carl Joseph's 12th birthday. Today also just happens to be the 13th annual National Day of Silence. where hundreds of thousands of students take some form of a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) bullying and harassment at school.

The National Day of Silence came too late for Carl Joseph.

Carl Joseph's mother, Sirdeaner L. Walker, called the New Leadership Charter School about her son's bullying weekly, but says they did little to nothing to stop it. She found Carl hanging by an extension cord on the second floor of the family's home April 6. Ironically, she found him dead just minutes before she was going to a meeting to confront school authorities again.

"If anything can come of this, it's that another child doesn't have to suffer like this and there can be some justice for some other child. I don't want any other parent to go through this," she said.

"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.

Momlogic asked Ross Ellis, founder and chief executive officer of Love Our Children USA, the national nonprofit leader on child violence prevention, for tips on protecting our children from bullies.

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."

This appears to be the case in this tragic situation, sadly.

How do we teach our kids tolerance of gay or transgendered classmates? We called Cornell University psychologist Ritch C. Savin-Williams, author of The New Gay Teenager, for tips on teaching our own kids tolerance for transgendered kids. "Parents must do everything they can to create a wide spectrum of gender expression," he says.

Here are his top five tips:

  1. Start early. Even toddlers can learn that gender expression is okay.
  2. Encourage emotion. Allow your child to cry and express his or her feelings.
  3. Watch your language. Ban expressions like "boys don't cry" or "girls aren't pushy" from your vocabulary.
  4. Offer kids a variety of toys. For instance, don't say things like, "You want the truck, right?" to your toddler son. Let him decide--even if he chooses a doll or princess toy.
  5. Allow kids to be open and positive about peoples' differences. Even if you aren't tolerant of gay or transgendered people, your children live in a world that's very different than it was even 20 years ago. "Teach your child about the world that will come," Savin-Williams concludes, "not the one you were raised in."

Our hearts go out to Carl Joseph's family in this tragic time. May his death not be in vain.

next: Hot Mom Mess of the Week!
28 comments so far | Post a comment now
forgivin April 17, 2009, 9:28 AM

So sad….I think I’m going homeschool my children.

Anonymous April 17, 2009, 9:35 AM

This is tragic. I was bullied at this age. I am lucky to have had an informed support system that helped me through it. I feel for his parents and family—he is a beautiful little boy whose life was just beginning.

K April 17, 2009, 11:24 AM

This is so sad! I too was bullied back in school and some things that were said to me were so hurtful that i did not go to school for days just to get away from it, and the teaches never did anything about it.. my heart goes out to the family

Anonymous April 17, 2009, 11:58 AM

My parents moved due to constant bullying of me when I was a young teenager. I still have some confidence issues.

Samantha April 17, 2009, 12:04 PM

Thats heartbreaking. I agree with the homeschooling statement- I constantly consider that option with my children. My son has been teased alot due to a learning disability. I wonder what makes kids so cruel. We should all try to teach our kids more empathy. Perhaps if these kids and their parents were punished in some way, their behavior would change. This story makes me wonder if these kids feel anything for what they’ve done?!

Barb April 17, 2009, 1:21 PM

My heart is breaking for this boy’s parents.

Kristen April 17, 2009, 1:46 PM

We DO homeschool and this is just one of the reasons why.

Emmy April 17, 2009, 1:53 PM

Just read an article in the NYT about being called “gay” by school bullies and this may not having anything to do with homosexuality. “Gay” is being used like we used it back in the 80’s - something lame or just not cool. Or, simply, a boy showing a sign of weakness or femininity.

Whatever the reason, this story breaks my heart. Our school district recently sent out their anti bullying memo and they want parents to deal with parents first before getting the administration involved. What do you think of that, if you have ever been in this situation? How effective is it?

ananda101 April 17, 2009, 3:45 PM

I have a 8 year old son and I homeschool him. Kids are so mean now and days.

rugbymom April 17, 2009, 4:01 PM

This is incredibly sad. My heart goes out to her!

CP April 17, 2009, 5:03 PM

Oh great you’re homeschooling… make your child a social outcast.

jt April 17, 2009, 6:47 PM

cp sounds like maybe you may have been a bully in school and did not grow out of it. i do not home school but do not think it makes kids social outcasts. i think your comment was inappropriate.

Danielle April 17, 2009, 9:28 PM

I was bullied in the eight grade at school. There was this pathway near my home I would use to go to the store. There was this boy, a teenager who always bothered me. One day he was sitting on a rock near the trail and decided to flashed me. He called me names and then tried to attack me. I survived because I got tired and decided fought back. Not all children are that strong and have that type of will. May God be with these kids who suffer. My son was in a similar situation until I told him to start telling and I started documenting everything. Enough of seeing my face at school put an end to it.

Brian April 17, 2009, 9:30 PM

I’m not yet a gay parent (but plan to be one day) and already struggle with the homeschooling question. On one hand, I know it will be easier for my future child to keep him out of an environment of stigma and bullying just because of his parents’ sexuality. But on the other, I know it is a vital part of growing up to learn how to make it in a hostile environment. I only hope that by the time I am raising a school-aged child of my own that we can say anti-gay bullying is a thing of the past.

No child deserves to be bullied to death. Shame on any parent or educator who lets the homophobic taunting, harassment, and ridicule go on while doing nothing.

danielle April 17, 2009, 9:34 PM

I tried the “approach the parent with the issue first” method. The parent was in total denial and actually wanted to fight instead of being rational about the situation. They couldn’t except that their child could possibly be a bully. Sometimes you need a mediator.

Beccah April 18, 2009, 12:22 AM

This indeed could have been prevented. Maybe not the suicide but the bullying, definitely. We took steps to integrate sex education, health education and programs like DARE to educate children about the dangers of doing drugs, having unprotected sex and eating unhealthy foods and it has made an improvement. Why cant we have something similar to teach children how to be civil to one another? Its not enough to suspend bullies or expect parents to make their children be nice at school. As a child in middleschool, I was teased and tormented terribly and it put me in a mental hospital with paranoid delusions. These children need to understand the effect they are having on other kids by just “poking fun” at them. We as parents need to urge our local education departments to integrate anti-bullying programs in schools, especially in middle school, as it seems this is where most bullying takes place. Please re-post this message on school forums, other blogs about this incident and any other place it will be seen by someone who can get these programs started in our childrens’ schools. Lets do something now before another child loses a life.

Anti CP April 18, 2009, 9:00 AM

CP, Leave parents alone that decide to raise their children differently. Why even bother to highlight your ignorance by making that rude statement? And no Im not a homeschooler - But I support the right.

Alison April 18, 2009, 10:43 AM

We too homeschool for this reason. Our daughter has been bullied! Enough already! Something has to be done!

Alison April 18, 2009, 10:54 AM

CP, have you ever seen your child threatened to be shot? Have you ever seen your 6yr old beaten up by a 10yr old? I have, my children…and this was BEFORE we started homeschooling when my kids did go to a public school! You need to educate yourself on homeschooling before you make a judgement! Our children are on the swim team, little league, dance class, Girl Scouts…the list goes on and on. Our children are the children who receive the compliments for such great behavior. Our children are the children who are asked to show other children how to behave. CP, think before you speak!

Anonymous April 18, 2009, 8:54 PM

Bullies have always been around I myself was too teased in school, almost everyone probally is to a certain extent. Kids these days dont care, they dont think about stuff they say before they say it. Putting a stop on this has to start at home at the dinner table. It shouldnt matter what race, color, sexual orientation, height, weight, etc is. In the end we all bleed red and are human. Its sad to think this boy thought he had no where else to turn, like he wasnt good enough. What is happening to our children?!

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