DETROIT – In the aftermath of the suicide of a 7-year-old Detroit boy last week, police and family members are seeking answers to how a young child could end his life. The CEO of the charter school that he was attending insists that there were no signs that he was bullied as has been speculated.
“To the best of our knowledge, after careful review with the principal, teachers and counselors, there was never any mention of bullying by the student’s mother, who was an active volunteer at the school,” said Geneva Williams, interim CEO of the University Preparatory Academy and University Preparatory Science and Math school districts, in a statement on Friday. “The student was in a very caring and nurturing environment.”
The boy, whose name has not been released, was a first-grader at Mark Murray Elementary, which is apart of University Prep. He was found hanging from his bunk bed by his 14-year-old sister in the family’s home on the 700 block of Pingree Street on the city’s west side on May 24.
The boy’s mother told Detroit police that her son was bullied at school because he was being raised in a mostly female household — he was the only boy in a household with four daughters. The mother also said that he had been depressed over her separation from his father.
“All of us are heartbroken and shocked by the death of this young student,” Williams said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
“Our school policy conforms to State of Michigan anti-bully laws,” Williams said, noting the district has a zero tolerance policy against bullying. “We continue to cooperate thoroughly with the Detroit Police Department as they investigate this tragedy.”
Some Murray Elementary parents told the Detroit News last Friday that they do not believe the allegations that the child was a victim of bullying at the school. They felt that the school’s staff is supportive of students and creates an atmosphere that does not tolerate bullying by other students or staff.
Dajuan Hayes, whose 5-year-old daughter attends the school, said his child has not had any problems or mentioned any problems.
“When she comes home, she doesn’t have any complaints,” said Dajuan Hayes whose 5-year-old daughter, Nila, shares a class with the 7-year-old boy’s sister.
Like many parents with children at the school, Hayes said the school is an ideal one with a great staff concerned with giving students a great environment, such as smaller classrooms and very attentive teachers.
Todd Inniss, a Detroit attorney whose two sons attend Murray, said that the “overall atmosphere is very good” at the school. He added that, while he could not speak on whether the little boy was the victim of bullying, the school “is not the kind of place where kids are bullied.”
The shock of his death hit his New Center neighborhood especially hard. Tina Garrett, who lives across the street from the family, said the little boy played with her 8-year-old daughter. Garrett last saw the boy last Wednesday with on his bike and said nothing seemed unusual with the boy.
“He went back in the house,” Garrett said to the News last Thursday. “He seemed to be OK.” She also described the child as a “bubbly little boy.”
Detroit City Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins, who sponsored anti-bullying legislation last year, said it is “heartbreaking” and “devastating” when a child feels that suicide is an option in dealing with bullies.
“It just brings tears to my eyes to think about what that family is going through and what that baby was going through,” Jenkins said last Thursday. “Bullying, in general, is a difficult issue that can be dealt with. It takes everybody being on board and putting forth the effort to stop bullying.”
Garrett said the boy often played with her daughter, riding up and down the street on his bike, and she had to make the difficult decision to explain to her daughter what happen to her friend.
“She cried so bad last night she didn’t want to go to sleep,” Garrett said. “I told her, ‘If someone bullies you, don’t get depressed. Come talk to me so we can solve it.’”
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith