State authorities are investigating the suicide of a 12-year-old Lexington County boy who, his mother said, killed himself after being bullied at school.
The boy’s mother said in a Facebook post Monday that her 12-year-old son killed himself “to ease his extreme pain from bullying at school.”
“My sweet sweet boy was suffering an unbearable pain in silence and I couldn’t help him because I didn’t know,” she wrote. “I couldn’t see.”
Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher ruled the boy’s Dec. 29 death a suicide. She said he left a note that helped investigators make that determination but declined to comment on further details about his death, including the potential role of bullying.
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The State generally does not identify suicide victims.
SLED agents investigating
Because the boy’s father works in local law enforcement, the investigation was turned over to the State Law Enforcement Division, whose child fatality unit also is tasked with investigating any child death in South Carolina.
SLED spokesman Thom Berry could not provide details about the investigation, citing a state statute that says any information about the unit’s work cannot be released.
Lexington School District 1 spokeswoman Mary Beth Hill said the boy was a seventh grader at White Knoll Middle School, which returned from winter break Thursday.
“Today, they tried to keep the school day as normal as possible, and we had additional counselors and psychologists on hand to help,” Hill said in an email. “If those counselors had any concerns about how a child handled this today, they contacted the child’s parent.”
The district sent an email to parents of White Knoll seventh graders last week informing them that a student had died and offering advice on how to talk with their children about it. Hill deferred questions about the investigation to SLED.
“Many students have complicated lives,” Lexington 1 superintendent Gregory Little said in a statement. “We work hard to create a system designed to make every child feel welcome in our schools. We are always going to err on the side of listening and trying to do better – so that no child is treated unkindly.”
In her Facebook post, the boy’s mother does not provide specifics about the bullying or how she learned of it.
‘A public health issue’
Fisher said this is the third suicide of a child under the age of 16 in Lexington County since she was elected coroner in November 2014.
Nationally, suicide rates among teenage boys and girls have risen steadily since 2007, according to 2015 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In South Carolina, suicide is the leading cause of death for youths ages 10 to 14, and the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, according to Alexandra Karydi, director of the state’s Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative at the S.C. Department of Mental Health.
“Unfortunately, culturally, there’s still a lot of people that think suicide is something you decide to do, that it’s an act of weakness,” she said. “It’s really rooted in a lack of awareness. It’s a public health issue.”
Looking for signs
Warning signs of suicide can vary depending on a person’s age and different factors in their life, Karydi said.
“You’re really looking for things that are outside of the ordinary for that person,” she said.
When talking with anyone about suicide, Karydi said, it’s important to be empathetic and not dismissive or judgmental.
One misconception people have about suicide is that there’s nothing that can be done once someone decides to end their life, she said. Another commonly held belief is that talking about suicide with someone may somehow increase the chances they will try to end their life.
“It’s an act of strength to ask for help,” Karydi said. “The more we talk about suicide openly, empathetically and nonjudgmentally, we actually reduce the risk of suicide.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.
Warning signs of suicide
▪ Talking about wanting to die
▪ Looking for a way to kill oneself
▪ Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
▪ Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
▪ Talking about being a burden to others
▪ Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
▪ Sleeping too little or too much
▪ Withdrawing or feeling isolated
▪ Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
▪ Displaying extreme mood swings
Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention