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Suicide of the Bullied

Written by Katrina Moncure Apr 21, 2009

School bullying is on a lot of people’s minds at the moment as just yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the Columbine attack. Just today, I saw this article about an 11-year-old boy who killed himself after excessive bullying.

Family says bullying led boy, 11, to hang himself
By CHRISTIAN BOONE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Dekalb County school officials are mum about allegations that bullying at Dunaire Elementary School may have led 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera to commit suicide last week.

Public information officer Dale Davis said Tuesday morning that officials are legally unable to comment on student-related records, such as whether Herrera’s mother Masika Bermudez had complained to the school about possible bullying.

On Thursday afternoon, after returning home from school, fifth-grader Jaheem quietly went into his room and hanged himself. His 10-year-old sister, Yerralis, also a fifth-grader, discovered Jaheem’s dead body.

“His sister was screaming, ‘Get him down, get him down,’” said Norman Keene, who helped raise Jaheem since the boy was two years old.

When Keene got to the room, he saw Yerralis holding her brother, trying to remove the pressure of the noose her brother had fashioned with a fabric belt.

Jaheem was bullied relentlessly, his family said. Keene said the family knew the boy was a target, but until his death they didn’t understand the scope.

“We’d ask him, ‘Jaheem, what’s wrong with you?’” Keene recalled. “He’d never tell us.”

He didn’t want his sister to tell, either. She witnessed much of the bullying, and many times rose to her brother’s defense, Keene said.

“They called him gay and a snitch,” his stepfather said. “All the time they’d call him this.”

In an interview with WSB-TV, Bermudez also said her son was being bullied at school. She said she had complained to the school.

She said she asked him about the bullying Thursday when he came home from school and he denied it. She sent him to his room to calm down. It was the last time she would see him alive.

Bermudez told WSB she talked to Jaheem’s best friend about the situation last week.

“He said, ‘Yes ma’am. He told me that he’s tired of everybody always messing with him in school. He is tired of telling the teachers and the staff, and they never do anything about the problems. So, the only way out is by killing himself,’ ” Bermudez told WSB.

Spokesman Davis said the school sent out a notice to parents alerting them to the death. A crisis team was sent to the school Friday and grief counselors are on hand to help students, he said.

Dekalb Public Schools are working to prevent issues such as bullying and to promote tolerance through a national program called “No Place for Hate,” said Jennifer Errion, assistant director of student support services, prevention-intervention.

The program, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and begun in Dekalb schools in 2007, helps train faculty and students on accepting differences, promoting diversity and inclusion.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Errion said of Herrera’s death. “Unfortunately, prevention is not a vaccine. We have a society that is often misguided. We’ve created the idea that bullying is a rite of passage, and I don’t think it is.”

Earlier this month the suicide of a Massachusetts boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover — who suffered taunts that he was gay — attracted national attention.

He was also 11. His mother found him hanging from an extension cord in the family’s home.

Jaheem was excelling academically, Keene said, adapting quickly to his new home. The family moved to the Avondale Estates area less than a year ago from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Last winter, his grandmother died from cancer. She was living with the family at the time.

His grandfather returned to St. Croix after his wife’s passing. He’s taking Jaheem’s death especially hard.

“He says he has nothing to live for now,” Keene said. The family had planned a trip home in June. They’ll be returning next Monday instead to bury their 11-year-old son.

Poor Jaheem. 🙁

Now I, like everyone else, am going to ask why this had to happen. Some are saying the bullying was because he was gay or non-white. Well, it’s hard to tell for sure from that article whether he was in fact gay or if other students were just calling him that, not that it really makes much difference in this case, of course. The article was also rather vague about what exact kind of bullying he suffered.

I think the answer, while loaded, is clear: he’s dead because nobody cared and he had no way out.

Now, on Age of Reason, we’ve touched on bullying a number of times, such as my assertion that kids being sealed in an artificial academic world yields a micro-society where bullying seems necessary for survival for some, and Alex’s thoughts on Megan Meier, a girl who killed herself after a classmate’s mother posed as a boy on MySpace who pretended to like her, only to end up humiliating her. To attempt to understand this situation, I can borrow a bit from both.

If this boy felt taking his life was his only way out, you have to wonder what it was about the situation that did make him feel so trapped. Not surprising, as feeling trapped means having very little control over your life, and 11-year-olds don’t generally have that much say in things. He was stuck in this world that was abusing him and he was powerless to fight back or get away from it. I wonder if he had an option to switch to a different class or a better school, he may have gained his confidence back and would not have felt any need to end his life at all.

Then comes the other question. His family. His sister was supportive, yet his mother claims she knew nothing at all about what her son was going through at school, that she had been concerned and asked him on occasion, suspecting something was wrong, but he wouldn’t say. The article doesn’t go into that so much, but it’s interesting and perhaps an important bit here.

Why wouldn’t he tell his mother what was happening? What sort of history did this family have that may have caused him to hide his bullying from her and request that his sister not say anything either?

Could it be that the idea of being a victim was just that shameful? Was he perhaps taught all his life that “boys don’t cry” or something to that effect, and to admit he was suffering would be to emasculate himself? Just guessing here, really.

Also wonder what was going on with the mother. How would she have reacted if he had told her this was happening? Would she have seen him as weak? Would she have been dismissive, thinking it was just unimportant “kids’ stuff”? And in asking this, and knowing the end result, you must wonder… did she really not know what was happening? Had Jaheem really never attempted to tell her what was going on?

Or did she, like every other adult, think school bullying was no big deal, that whatever “suffering” he was going through was temporary and not worth a concern? Maybe he did tell her what was going on and she told him to quit bothering her, that he needs to grow up and not whine about these little things, that it’s not really that bad, etc. And of course, now that he’s killed himself, she certainly would never admit she was so dismissive, out of sheer guilt and shame.

Or, of course, maybe everything she’s saying is true and she didn’t give Jaheem much actual reason for not telling her. Not as explicitly anyway.

But the school staff didn’t care. The bullies themselves certainly didn’t care, though surely did not realize just what they were doing to this boy, and I hope they realize it now.

So maybe it’s about time adults quit dismissing the “petty” problems of children and adolescents, understood that they are serious, and started at the very least offering a sympathetic ear, and even better, maybe some more educational options to give students the ability to get away from their tormenters so they can pursue their education in peace. Because as it is now, the only way to escape the tormenters is through a loop in a cord. And this will keep happening until these things start changing now.

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