Teenager Jay witnessed an incident involving a fellow student who later committed suicide. Now Jay is being accused of murder, reports Jay and Jay’s parents, because of rumors and gossip.
Jay and a few friends were together outside of the school. With Jay in their presence, one of the friends picked a fight with fellow student, “L.” L. argued back. It became heated, so Jay pulled the friend away and L. departed; minutes later, L. committed suicide. L.’s family told police, the media, and the school that bullying was to blame. Now Jay is being accused of bullying L. into committing suicide, despite the police investigation clearing the teen. Peers, neighbors, and even friends are accusing Jay of being “a killer,” Jay reports.
“I’m being bullied in the (school) halls,” Jay explains. “I even had to go home early from school a few times. Kids are calling me a ‘killer,’ angry at me and doing things to me.” The teen suicide made the local news, and the media immediately blamed ‘the bullying teens’ on L’s death. “And because it was on the TV and TV (media) was calling it bullying, I’m being blamed by people for bullying L. and making L. commit suicide.”
The police investigation into the suicide revealed L. was bearing many burdens, included depression, bullying by other students, a history of abuse, and issues in school. Yet none of this was reported in the media; none of it could be discussed in the free, in-school counseling sessions offered to students where Jay, L., and their peers attend. The community, with limited knowledge of the case, held events to stop bullying; the case was used as the example of how a child can be “bullied” into suicide. The “suicide caused by bullying” story continued to pick up steam and grew bigger each day. Jay did not realize how big it had gotten until a neighbor’s child asked innocently, “Why did you kill that kid? My mommy said you killed that kid.”
“For a long time, I did think (L’s suicide) was my fault,” Jay says. “What if I would have stopped (the friend) from picking a fight? What if I stopped them from arguing? What if I hadn’t been there at all?” When the case closed, an investigator sat with Jay’s family to talk and “now I know, you can say ‘what if’ forever.”
Jay’s mother, Annie, confirms Jay was “a basket case for weeks” after the suicide, and the ostracizing and blaming compounded it. Annie must monitor Jay’s phone and social media accounts, continually checking on her child when away from home, because of threats against Jay. Jay, once a gregarious student, is now becoming a somber loner.
Part of the problem, says Jay’s family, is the definition of bullying, and the tendency to “lump everything together.” Meaning, “there can be two people arguing. Then there can be one person being mean to another because they don’t like how they look, or whatever,” says Annie. “One is bullying, but the arguing is just disagreeing. Yet it seems now, right away everyone calls it all ‘bullying.’”
“I’ve learned we all need to keep a closer eye on kids,” says Annie. “Become involved in talking to them, communication. They have to know you’re there for them.” Where once “family dinner” composed of everyone going to different rooms in the house, texting or watching television while eating, now the family has dinner together. Annie ensures everyone at the table tells about their day, “good and bad.”
“The thing I have learned about us going through this,” Annie confides, “is anyone going through the grief needs to get the whole story before blaming. That goes for anyone – the media, the school, victims, families – get the whole story from all sides before you react, before you blame.”
Until then, Jay goes to school dreading what will happen, trying to resume normalcy, while quietly grieving for L. Meanwhile, Jay’s loved ones hope the rumors and blaming stop soon and their own child is safe.
(For privacy purposes, names have been changed)
Suicide is the sixth leading cause of death among youths aged 5-14. A youth suicide (aged 15-24) occurs every 100 minutes. For more information, or to seek help, CLICK HERE.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)