dminmem

dminmem

21 April 2009

Where are the Adults?

This is so sad. I don't know why situations like this can't seem to be prevented. Where were the authority figures at this child's school? Where were the parents of the attackers? I'll be watching this story. I want to see accountability.

Family says bullying led boy, 11, to hang himself

By CHRISTIAN BOONE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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.


A photograph of Jaheem Herrera, 11, hangs above a poster on the front door of the family’s Dekalb apartment, all part of a makeshift shrine to the dead boy. Curtis Comption/ccompton@ajc.com

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.

— Staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this report.

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