Seven Bridges, a 10-year-old fifth grader in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), committed suicide by hanging himself in his closet this weekend after being constantly bullied.
According to JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy, Bridges’ suicide marks the eighth time a student in the school district –the 28th largest in the nation — has taken his or her life in the 2018-2019 academic year. That’s more than twice as many student suicides in the entire 2017-2018 academic year. Seven Bridges, however, was the youngest student to commit suicide this year.
Bridges’ mother, Tami Charles, said Wednesday that she was unable to revive her son with CPR when she discovered his body.
“My son took his life due to bullying, it has been probably ongoing for about seven months, horribly,” Charles said. “He would have little things as he went through school, but nothing as bad as this year.”
Charles is placing the blame for her son’s death at the feet of both JCPS and administrators at Kerrick Elementary, where he was bullied by other students for a medical condition that required multiple bowel surgeries. Bridges once had to wear a colostomy bag, though he still reportedly had bowel leakage that prompted other students to make fun of him due to the smell.
Charles told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the school ignored her complaints about the bullying, and that school staff treated her son differently once she started lodging complaints. She added that at one point, a girl at the school made up a song about how bad her son smelled.
“He was so hurt, he couldn’t get the words out,” Charles said.
She also shared memories of how her son would, despite being bullied, not strike back or even verbally retort against his bullies.
He loved to dance and play music and was obsessed with super heroes. He cried when he found out that iconic comic book writer Stan Lee had died.
The first time that Seven rode his bicycle without training wheels, around age 3 or 4, the little boy stopped to pray, his dad said.
“He said, ‘Dear Lord, give me the strength to go fast and keep up,'” Donnie Bridges remembers him saying, his tiny hands clasped together over his handlebars.
Patti Clark, who is tasked with suicide prevention services at the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told NBC News that the issue of student suicides wasn’t just an issue for JCPS students, but across the commonwealth.
“We’re seeing several younger students getting into 10, 11, 12 years old that see [suicide] as an option for whatever issues they’re facing,” Clark said. “That’s very alarming to us to think that’s where we’re going.”
Clark may be right — according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 522 children under the age of 14 took their own lives in 2017, up from 184 in 2007.
Charles told the Courier-Journal she may sue JCPS over her son’s death, saying that district administrators “have their ears in their pockets.”
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.