A Kentucky mother is speaking out in hopes her experience will raise awareness about the harmful, and oftentimes tragic, impacts of bullying.
Tami Charles said her son Seven, 10, was a fun-loving child with a big heart who recently had enjoyed a day at Louisville’s Comic-Con dressed as his favorite character, Wolverine. So it was a shock to his family when the fifth-grader took his life on Saturday.
His mother said she made a quick run to the grocery store and returned to see that her son had hanged himself.
“We just wanted to raise a happy kid, live our lives and be OK,” Charles told local station WLKY.
Charles and her husband said they plan to sue Jefferson County Public Schools, saying the district failed their son by failing to address the incessant bullying the 10-year-old faced at school. The grieving mother pointed to an August incident where her son was taken to the hospital after complaining of dizziness. She later found out the boy had been choked and called a racial slur by someone on the school bus.
Charles also said her son was often teased about his medical condition, which required him to have a colostomy bag. The 10-year-old was born with a bowel condition, his mother told station WDRB, and endured 26 surgeries as doctors tried to fix the issue. She said the kids at school would tease her son about the smell caused by the condition.
Charles said she alerted officials about the bullying involving her son, but the efforts got her nowhere. It’s unclear if the kid who choked Seven was ever disciplined, and Charles said students and staff began treating her son differently the more she began advocating on his behalf.
“We found that the school system had a lot of holes and a lot of inconsistencies with their policies about bullying,” she said, adding that there was no paperwork or even an incident report filed after the bus incident. “They stood on the verbal message, the lip service of zero tolerance, but they didn’t deliver.”
Renee Murphy, a spokesperson for the district, called the fifth-grader’s death “devastating” and promised JCPS would launch an investigation into what happened after Charles’ initial complaints about the bullying.
“When complaints were made, I can tell you they were addressed,” Murphy told the station. “But again, we will have a full investigation, a full review to see exactly what happened and if all the policies and procedures were followed.”
“Our hearts are breaking for this family,” she added.
Charles said she noticed her son had become very melancholy and depressed in the weeks before his death.
“He couldn’t fight back,” she said. “He didn’t know how to hurt you. He had no malice, none, and I’m just looking at him like, ‘Are you even my child?’ Because I would’ve gave that little [bully] a two-piece and a biscuit. But he didn’t have that in him. All he did was pray for the boy.”
Seven’s death comes just a month after 9-year-old Alabama girl McKenzie Adams also committed suicide. Adams’ family said she was the target of racist bullying over her close friendship with a white classmate, which drove her to take her life. However, the Linden Police Department ended their investigation into the matter earlier this month after saying they could find no evidence that Adams was being bullied.
“The only thing that’s concrete is that she committed suicide,” Police Chief Robert Alston told reporters at the time. “At this standpoint, the school is denying any report was made to them of bullying, and so far, we haven’t been able to prove that there was any report made to them.”
A study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics last year showed that suicide rates among Black children aged 5-12 were about two times higher than those of white children. Between 2001 and 2015, there were a recorded 1661 suicide deaths in African-American youths.
In the wake of her son’s death, Charles is demanding that JCPS make changes to its policy on bullying. And to her son’s bullies, Charles had this poignant message: “Forgive yourself. Seven did. He forgave you already. He found his peace; it’s time for you to find yours.”
The family has since launched a GoFundMe page to help cover Seven’s funeral costs. So far, the campaign has raised $25,000 in donations.
“We need to talk about this bullying,” Charles told WAVE 3 News. “Talk about this pain. I want people to do that with their children.”
Seven was a student at Kerrick Elementary School in Louisville.
Watch more in the video below.