The grieving parents of a 9-year-old child who hanged herself say they believe bullying and ADHD medication might have driven her to take her own life. Now, they’re speaking publicly about their daughter’s tragic death in hopes that it will spare others the same pain.
“We don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” said Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service Lt. Jimmie Williams, the girl’s stepfather.
Madison “Maddie” Whittsett died on Monday morning, three days after she intentionally hanged herself in her bedroom closet, AL.com reported. Williams said nothing seemed out of the ordinary that day, as the fourth-grader had arrived home from school Friday excited to learn that her mother had made plans for the two of them to go to Chick-fil-A for a little mommy-daughter time.
“Maddie loved Chick-fil-A and she was running through the house,” he said.
After a brief phone call, Williams said Whittsett’s mother, Eugenia Williams, yelled out for her daughter to get ready but got no response. She searched the front yard and the deck, but there was still no sign of Maddie. Walking back to her daughter’s bedroom, Williams noticed the closet door was slightly cracked, which was odd considering the little girl didn’t like her closet being open.
Williams rushed over to the closet where she made the grim discovery. Still on the phone with a friend, she immediately began CPR on her child as her friend dialed 911. Whittsett was rushed to a local hospital after bad weather prevented an air flight but later died.
“It came out of left field,’’ Lt. Williams said of his daughter’s suicide.
Her mother agreed, adding, “She was so alive, energetic, funny, loved dance.”
The parents said they later learned the girl had had a bad day at school, suffering constant bullying and harassment from other students. Whittsett had trouble with bullies in the past, they said, who called her names like “dumb” and “stupid.” The family said they spoke with the school principal and thought things had been handled. That wasn’t the case, however.
“We talked to one of her friends and Maddie had apparently had a bad day,” her stepdad said. “The friend said Maddie was bullied and she looked sad while she was being bullied, “It must have really worn her out that day.”
In the weeks prior to her death, Maddie has also started a new medication for her ADHD, which lists suicidal thoughts as a potential side effect.
“The bullying plus the medicine, I think, gave her the boost to do that,” Lt. Williams added.
The Williams are now urging parents to look for warning signs in their children’s behavior and are asking children to speak up when they see their friends are being bullied in hopes that another family can avoid a similar tragedy.
“Like they always say, ‘If you see something, say something,'” Williams said.
Children under 12 dying by suicide isn’t unheard of but is rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2016, 53 children aged 5 to 11 years old committed suicide. When examined along racial lines, suicide among African-American children has also seen an uptick in recent years.
A 2016 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal showed that Black children who committed suicide were more likely to be male and to die by strangulation, hanging or suffocation than other other early adolescents who took their own lives. Children with ADD/ADHD were also more likely to die by suicide than children without the disorder.
“The death of any young person is a tragic loss that impacts the whole school community, and we send our deepest condolences to the family,” Birmingham City Schools said in a statement after Whittsett’s death, adding that the community was “deeply saddened” by her passing.
Maddie’s parents declined to name the school she attended but said the staff has been “very supportive” throughout the process.
*If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.