April 23rd, 2009
11:59 PM ET

Bullying takes a boy's smile – and life

Editor's Note: An internal DeKalb school district review of alleged bullying of an 11-year-old student who hanged himself has found no evidence the child was specifically targeted for bullying. Tune in tonight for an update to the story on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

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David Mattingly
AC360° Correspondent

Eleven year-old Jaheem Herrera was a good student who liked to draw and make new friends. Last week he came home smiling with a report card of all A's and B's. Shortly after his mother congratulated him with a high-five, Jaheem went up to his room, closed the door and killed himself. Concerned when he didn't come down for dinner, his mom and younger sisters found him hanging by his belt in the closet.

Jaheem lost his grandmother about six months ago and missed her but it was something at school that his mother believes pushed him to suicide. For the last eight months, the boy had been targeted by bullies because he was from the Virgin Islands and spoke with an accent. They called him "ugly," "The Virgin," and "gay."

His mother tells me she complained frequently to school officials but the bullying continued. When Jaheem killed himself, he became the second 11 year-old boy in less than a month to choose suicide as the only way to escape relentless bullying.

One expert told me how this is a wake up call that everyone should pay attention to. One study shows 65 percent of teens are bullied in a single year. Bullies have been around since there have been schools. My question is, "Why did we need a wake up call at all?"

soundoff (134 Responses)
  1. Tamara Parris

    Keeping silent = keeping the bullies!!!

    Home, School or Work – we need to stop bullying behavior!!!

    I have a 4 year old boy. When he was 3 I found out he was being bullied in Daycare. He had told me over and over he was being hit, I questioned the staff daily and was told daily – they had not seen anything and it was not happening when they are around. (I started to look for a new daycare at this point)

    Unfortunately, the next day he comes home with red rings around his wrist. I called Children's Aid Society (CAS) on the daycare, of coarse pulled him out – he did NOT return the next day!!! I had to stay at home to care for him for a week – but that is what parents are for. I am a single mom – this was not easy to do!!!! But good parents protect their children, even if it means loosing money from work!

    Two things to my horror 1) CAS told me that they could do nothing because he is only 3 years old. And they dropped the investigation even though he told our neighbor – unprompted who had hurt him. So their was an adult witness to the case. and 2) the next month at a birthday party two parent told me they had seen the kids hit him while on "time out" WITH the teachers watching! Why would these parent not have reported seeing this happen???

    Bullying occurs because of OUR SILENCE as a community!!!!

    If you want it to stop you must advocate and speak out when it happens and you see it.

    This daycare is part of a school, and they are now being granted to open up another room to have MORE kids!!!

    So the kids are allowed to bully with the teachers watching!!

    Keeping silent = keeping the bullies!!!

    Tamara Parris

    June 11, 2009 at 11:52 am |
  2. Rick Coffman

    Well, John Williams. at first I will admit my anger was toward this child and I felt for what this BULLY did to my daughter, but after I had to complete an investigation on what happend it came out that my daughter complained twice and was twice told to play elsewhere, before she got hurt badly. then the next day she was punished for 25 minutes of walking at recess for going to the office when the teacher claimed she only had permission to go to the bathroom. This for an injury that was bad enough that they called me to come get her? Is this not crazy america? and now I have been put through this difficult ordeal to seek any justice. But good news everyone- today I was advised to call social services because this is actually child neglect- failure to protect. many parents have lost their own children for failing to protect their own children- so i call social services today to report this neglect. I told them what happend and then Im told to call back tomorrow and they will inform me of whether or not this will be investigated. So within an hour I get a call back from a supervisor ready to meet with my right then- due to me being in Frankort, ky I could not make it in time and they are meeting with me @8am tomorrow morning. So there is hope that all of this will properly be investigated. what do you think america? what should be the punishment for someone who let this happen to my daughter (read my post from may 24th to find out what happend) What should happen to the principal- the superintedent who is allowing the principal to continue the investigation- the same principal that has lied and done a terrible job of getting to the bottom of this, even covering it up.

    If you want to hear more of my story as it unfolds, send a post asking Anderson Cooper to fight for Desiree! Lets come together to avoid tragedies like this Dekalb County tragedy- my heart goes out to the Herrera family- If that school district reacted to her bullying complaints the way my daughters school is reacting to my BULLYING complaints- then I would definately say they are largely responsible for what happened to him.

    Pass this blog on- share my story- help me by getting Mr. Cooper to check into my allegations. HELP HELP HELP

    Rick Coffman

    May 26, 2009 at 5:43 pm |
  3. John Williams

    What a Nightmare! I'd end up in jail bacause God knows I'd go to the playground and give the bully a public spanking!

    May 26, 2009 at 12:36 am |
  4. Rick Coffman

    My daughter and friend made a complaint at recess of being pushed, then was to go play elsewhere. Then the bully hit my daughter in the back minutes later, then my daughter told on her, my daughter and her friend was again told to play elsewhere. After that, minutes later this bully ran up from behind and shoved my daughter from behind and she was badly hurt on the playground equipment she was slammed into. Then after that she went to the same teacher that she had complained to before and then teacher wouldnt even let her speak and sent her onto the next class. Then that teacher told her to go to the office. My daughter was never questioned about what happend and it was reported to me when i picked her up that it was an accident. The next day, the teacher that did send her to the office, punisehd her for going to the office and made her walk laps at recess, for 25 minutes. The bully walked for 5 minutes. The school is lying and manipulating to cover this up. I am fighting the school and it is quite dificult, they want it to go away, I want justice! my daughter has since been pushed after my complaints were made and nothing is being done. What can I do? who can help me seek justice? Who can help me prevent this before more children take their own lives. Help me fight for justice at Southside Elementary in Versailles, KY- one of the top rated elemeantary schools in the state please help- and parents- find out if your child has been verbally or physically attacked- or even even see it happen- we need to talk to our children and find out what really goes on- our children see it and we dont ask- its time to ask!

    May 24, 2009 at 11:57 am |
  5. Jason

    Let's not be unaware that this kind of bullyings continue into adulthood, and there are adults who also deal with the same issue. Adults are simply grown kids.

    May 23, 2009 at 1:03 am |
  6. Lisa Ray

    Dr. Mr. Cooper,
    I am the mother of a 13 year old son who has been picked on since 2nd grade. Every year it's always the same thing, even if my son starts the year out trying to act just like the other kids, he comes home with the story of them calling him gay, weird, a nerd. Actually my son is extremely intelligent and has just passed the 7th grade with all A's and was 1 of 11 children from the entire 7th grade to do so. What I need from you is help getting the bullying law passed in Mississippi. This doesn't just hurt his feelings. He has threatened taking his life because of this more than once. We live in a very small town and the school and it's teachers are very good at what they do, but it is a country school, so their belief is, just don't listen to them, they're just being kids. Well my son knows better because he is able to comprehend more than others. He knows they are not picking, but that they are trying to see how far they can push him before he breaks. My son is a yellow belyt in Tae Kwon Do, but will not use Karate as a weapon, whish is the way it is supposed to be, but I am scared that one day they will push him too far and he will lash out and actually hurt someone bad. I understand the fury that must have raged through Jaheem at times and I send my love and prayers out to his family and hope you can help my son get justice for being SMART. Thank you,
    Lisa Ray

    May 16, 2009 at 6:13 pm |
  7. Cynthia Taylor

    On Friday 5/1, I attended a taping of the Oprah Winfrey Show, I sat and listened to Masika Bermudez, mother of the Virgin Island's boy talk about the loss of her son. After she spoke, I proceeded to watch her agony from a nearby seat. I felt her pain. It was awful seeing her sit through the remaining portion of the show about sexual bullying. Very painful. I wanted to hug her, and help her somehow. I felt guilty for watching her in such a position. It was horrible. I immediately came home and had a very important discussion with my daughter, who has been bullied on occasion. No one really has the answer to this, but what they say is that 'just ignore it' doesn't work. Recently my daughter saw one of her friends being bullied and the girl was extremely distraught . . . my daughter didn't say anything to them directly for fear of becoming the target (which happens a lot) and went and got a teacher. Even so, there is no official plan in effect for bullying. No one really knows how to handle it. It would be helpful if those being bullied had a good group of friends that will come to the rescue, say to the bully that this is not good behavior and walk the victim away from the bully. People are heard in numbers, and there needs to be an official movement on this and fast. Times are changing. How many people have brought weapons to school as retaliation of being bullied, or committed suicide for fear of having no other way out. There must be a collective effort to change this, AND NOW. Not tomorrow.

    May 4, 2009 at 10:24 am |
  8. Dr Blackinstien, ATL

    As a Teacher who taught in the same county that this 11-year-old boy went to, I can tell you that the Superintendent Crawford Lewis and many of his school Principals don't take student disrespect and behavior as a top priority. They blame it all on the teachers who address behavioral problems, only to be overridden with Administrative politics. The student will stay, and the teacher will go! Therefore, under Crawford Lewis' leadership, the school system of Dekalb is under moral decay! Crawford says, "They are putting together a chronology of events, including how many times the boy's mother may have complained to officials". How many times???? BS!

    April 27, 2009 at 1:46 pm |
  9. David

    I am sorely disappointed at the reference of "one study" in regards to this...that "one study" shows so much more. GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, has polled youth for over 10 years in regards to the bullying and harassment of LGBT youth. Nine out of 10 report hearing anti-gay slurs in the halls on a frequent basis, nearly a quarter report being physically assualted, over half do not feel safe, almost a third reported skipping school for fear of their personal saftey, and the report shows that many teachers and staff turn a blind eye to the situation altogether, which is totally unacceptable.

    I am surprised that I have not seen anyone from GLSEN addressing these issues on your show this evening.

    April 25, 2009 at 1:58 am |
  10. margie

    Where did you go to school?? Kids will do this sort of thing. There are mean girls and mean boys everywhere and not just in school.
    Of course, it is up to the parent and school to spek to the students about kindness. Even a pretty girl has to put up with other girls being envenious and the A student has to do the same, that's life.
    Maybe we as adults need to set the example more. I know that my children got many lectures about "Do unto others as you would want done unto you". I'm not an overly religious person but I was taught how people should treat one another. Maybe we need to go back to the basics of being parents.

    April 25, 2009 at 12:22 am |
  11. Denice

    No, the 11 yr. old kids involved can't necessarily be held accountable but the ADULTS involved CAN.He and his family should have been able to rely on the school staff to follow through with policy and procedure.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:54 pm |
  12. Lee

    I really hope this opens people's eyes to how extremely important this is for teachers and parents esp. to monitor and take seriously.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:44 pm |
  13. Craig Sherod

    I agree with Claudia that it will be hard for the schools to control this problem but I think it's important to be sure that every school staff member knows that catastrophic results can come from bullying and when a bully is caught, it needs to be handled very seriously. Maybe that's a serious meeting that includes the bully's parents and where the penalty for the next violation is severe and communicated clearly. When the first violator is expelled or moved to another school, that will send a message throughout the school and kids will take this more seriously. Of course, nothing will stop bullying completely, at school or in the neighborhood. I wonder if children killed themselves in the 50's as a response to bullying? Maybe it wasn't reported back then, or is it that kids today are more susceptible?

    April 24, 2009 at 1:47 pm |
  14. Mary Horn

    Bullying has been around for years. Parents and school administration need to wake up and realize this is just as important as emphasising ethics and morals in school. More so because not taking bullying seriously has been shown to lead to child suicide. Parents have the initial responsibility to take the matter to the school officials and keep on their case vigorously until it is resolved. Taking it to the School Board if necessary.

    But schools have the subsequent responsibility to act immediately and productively to restore these children to a safe setting where education is in process and bullying is not tolerated at any level.

    When I hear the term "wake up call" offered over and over again, it just angers me. We have already had a wake up call the day Columbine High School terror went down. The parents of the two boys and the school board did not do enough to help the shooters out when the bullying to them started. I belileve I read they had had feces speared on them and their clothes for as long as two years prior to the events on April 20, 1999. The parents of the kids and the kids themselves who did the bullying should also be held accountable for their part in the destruction of the two boys' lives and the subsequent horrow they carried out.

    It's time to wake up to the effects of our words and actions on others. Middle school and high school are typically the worst times for kids due to peer pressure and bullying. I've been out of school for 23 years and it was alive and sctrong when I attended school. Nothing has changed. But it is long overdue that school administration, teachers and parents take up for the victims of bullying and put an end to their torture before any more children take matters into their own hand either by suicide or homicide.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:33 pm |
  15. charles

    i was picked on through elementary, jr. high, and high school. it was horrifying to come home to my parents and tell them what happened. eventually, since the school district(s) did nothing, i stopped bothering my family and kept everything to myself. thank goodness i made it through all of that mess. i just wish i could have had 30 minutes with this little one, i could have made a difference. as for the bullies, they will always exist as insecure losers and as for their followers, remember, there are two kinds of people in this world, leaders and followers. guess which one i turned out to be:) followers are losers too since they need guidance from mr. or ms. popular idiot on the schoolgrounds. i hope this family sues the hell out of the school district and finds out the names of all the bullies, not just in this case, but everywhere around and are all identified as trash!!!

    April 24, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  16. Susan Evans

    One mixed moment in my 6th grader's school life involved a bully. A boy in his class was bullying a girl. One day, as they were walking to math class with their huge math books in their arms, the bully told my son to hit the girl on the head with his book. My son hit the boy on the head with the book, and said, "How do you like that?, Quit picking on her, she's my friend." When my son told me of that incident, I told him his instincts were right, but he should think of another way to handle something like that. I'm proud that all of my children were champions of the underdog.

    April 24, 2009 at 12:21 pm |
  17. Joy-Pittsfield, IL

    What a tragedy! If people, expecially young people, could only realize that the only way bullies feel better about themselves is to bully other people, maybe it wouldn't hurt so much!

    I pray that his famly would feel the hands of Jesus lovingly wrapped around them and will have a personal relationship with Him.

    April 24, 2009 at 12:11 pm |
  18. Deb

    This is so sad.

    I have a 12 year old daughter who I communicate with on a daily basis about how things are at her school. We have a great loving relationship which is the key. She was bullied by other older girls in her school. When we talked about it we informed her school. The school took action and called in the girl who did the bullying and her parents. Apprantly the school was very happy that I reported the problem because other kids were having the same problem and the school needed these reports to take action. Through all this my daughter understand the way of life which I talk to her all the time. Its not a nice world out there no matter what age you are. You are always going to meet people who are mean, jealous, and untrustworthy. Stay away from these kids/people. They are not someone who you want to be friends with no matter how popular they are. Surround yourself with loving and caring friends only. Do not listen to these kids who are unhappy with their own lives at home. I tell her yes you will hear kids say your being a snitch etc. but really look at it. regardless if you tell or not you still have the problem.

    Parent needs to take responsibility first. Teach your kids the real fact of life. How to handle things. The teachers know as much as you tell them and trust me kids are smart. You have to be one step ahead of them.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:59 am |
  19. Marie

    This is very difficult to see and hear about. I have an 11 year old-son who is a great kid, good to others and kind – he has never been bullied. He has tons of friends and does well in school. This year in 5th grade, he has 8 boys in his class and only 2 are nice to him. All the others bully tease and harass him and other boys in class. The teacher has sent out two notices to parents about this behavior this month alone. It is a HUGE problem and 'ZERO TOLERANCE ‘ policies the school has in place don't work unless the child speaks up. This too can cause a child to be singled out for more bullying.

    At first we first told him to 'tough it out' because he wasn't being singled out – it was just boys being boys. However, We have noticed a HUGE increase in problems this month, he wants out of the class, he is more sensitive and he said he feels 'worthless'. This is a child who makes friends easily and gets along with everyone!

    The only defense the bullied child has is to tell the teacher – but that doesn't mean the bully stops.

    Who is counseling the bullies to make them see their problems?

    April 24, 2009 at 11:53 am |
  20. Vicky - Las Vegas, NV

    My 13 year daughter is experiencing the same bullying at school but not by the students but a teacher. The teacher constantly tells my daughter she is going to go to hell for being bi-sexual and gay. The teacher has her own daughter who attends the school harass my daughter in the hallways over being bi-sexual. My daughter has made numerous incident reports to the school but nothing has been done. My daughter finally screamed at the teacher and was kicked out of the class. I feel she's better off not in the school district which is failing her miserably by allowing a teacher to bully my daughter and other gay students.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:37 am |
  21. Mary

    That is so sad that a young student would take his life because he felt that there was no other way out. Schools adminstartors should not turn the other way when students complain about being bully.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:10 am |
  22. Paul

    Anderson: I'm happy to see that you are paying attention to this tragic story but I would be more impressed if you had Tony Perkins on your show and confronted him with images bashing victims and Carl Hoover and forced him to recognize that his hate speech has real life and tragic consequences. You and your network have given these hatemongers too much airtime to spout their views without recognizing the impacts of their speech in the real world.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:56 am |
  23. desiree sanchez

    This is a sad heratbreaking story. So close to home for me since I was bullied all my life in school in the 70's and 80's, It brought me to tears, it brought me to depression, it demotivated me, it caused me to skip school a lot, and it caused me to have suicidal tendencies. The effects are life long and stay with you, it causes horrible self esteem issues. Now that I have 2 girls of my own, the horrors of seeing this happen to my own children, make the pain even worse as you try to protect your kids from the very pain that you went through. It's quite difficult to explain to your own children that this is how the world works, and quite frankly this is how the world works, from small school bullies to countries at war.. Sad as it is, this is how the world works.. it will not change until parents take great care in teaching their children how to be kind and respectful to other children. If we just take these small steps, maybe we can see some difference. Parents who spoil thier children are to blame too. These children think they deserve it all and that is where bullying starts. They don't want another child to be highlighted.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:53 am |
  24. Margaret-Arlington,TX

    This is just sad point blank. I due somewhat blame the school system but they can only do so much at some point the kids need to be held accountable of their own actions. According to last nights anderson copper 360 report the school that jaheem went to had bully pledges, activities that targeted school bulling, counselors that were specially trained for school bulling.

    Anderson if you are reading this can you ask oprah if you and her can do a special on this subject because it's getting out of hand.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:06 am |
  25. Claudia - Ft. Lauderdale,FL.

    It is very sad indeed. I was also bullied at school and i didn't grow up here. Bullying is a worldwide problem. I wonder if there is a way to stop it... I agree with Lynnie regarding parents' responsibility to make their children feel loved all the time. Parents need to constantly tell their children how important and special they are regardless of what other kids say at school. My daughter had told me about a kid that bullies not only her but many kids at school. She adds that he does it when teachers are not paying attention so I think it may be hard but not impossible for teachers to stop the bullying. Again i believe it's our obligation as parents to care for our children and that includes emotional care.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:30 am |
  26. John Stohrer

    School size is more often than not a factor in unacceptable student behavior that produces not only individual tragedies, but those of unbelievable proportions. School size was implicated in the Columbine situation, but no corrective measures appear to have been taken in that regard.

    In the United States, we are smitten with the notion that "bigger is better" when, in fact, the factors leading to bullying are hidden in the student mass. At some point, we must get to an understanding that the purpose of mandated public education is the creation of the people with whom we will live and work, not serve as a venue for the adulation of individual achievment.

    The federal administration must realize that increasing teacher compensation will not change the product of public education. The two efforts that will improve student performance, as well as interpersonal student behavior, are attention to school size and a system of peer evaluation.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:29 am |
  27. Mahdi

    This is sad. and what is more sad is when nothing is being done about it. I think parents need to stay closer to their children and don't give them their own room till their over 15. make them feel that they care about the child and listen to the child. after all who understands children better than thier loving and caring parents. as for school they must play a roll of the second home for children. and when a kid is complaining from being bullied ,action must be taken.

    April 24, 2009 at 8:44 am |
  28. Patrick Harnish

    It is a tragedy this happened, but as I have discovered, there is a main trauma followed by smaller ones that cloud the mind. The death of a loved one can be a major trauma to a child who cannot adapt to the change. These kids put on a brave and happy face toward those they love, but deep down, they hide it very well. I talk about this at length with parents where I do presentations. Some are astonished by what they were able to find out, and has helped in recognizing it before its to late. I feel bad for this mother, as she didn't even know what her child was up to. Peer abuse in any form just fuels what is going on with the child, and schools need to take a more active role in stopping this activity. My prayers are with this family.

    April 24, 2009 at 8:38 am |
  29. David A.

    I don’t think the human race will ever learn anything from tragedies such as Columbine or Virginia Tech – young people who have been forced to the edge of society because they are different in some way, who then lash out in the only final way they feel they can to make a statement to the world. There will be more tragedies until we get this disease of bullying under control. I was that young boy that was bullied in grade school. Picked on incessantly because I was gay – even before I knew that I was gay. Now I suffer from post traumatic stress from the nightmare that was my childhood. My whole adult life has been affected by it – unable to trust, unable to love, unable to develop friendships like most others. I can honestly tell you that if I had access to a gun when I was 13 you could have bet your last dollar on the fact that I would have marched into that school and got rid of every last person that bullied me, and the adults that allowed and even encouraged it, including the Principal, a few teachers and a shameful number of the parents of those bullies. Why must Americans always have someone to pick on?

    April 24, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  30. K Salandy

    The latest incidents of bullying brought tears to my eyes. I would caution, however, that racial bullying is alive and well at schools and in many private schools where blacks are still a minority. Just like the boys who were teased about being gay, Black boys who are subjected to racial comments do no necessarily tell their parents. When I finally was able to draw it out of my son who had suddenly withdrawn and wanted to leave a top private school in the Washington DC area I approached the school officials and after my calls were not returned I went to the school to discuss the issue and was told that "boys will be boys" . Since they were unwilling to address the issue, I called the student's parent to inform him. To his credit, he thought it was totally inappropriate and had his son apologize to my son immediately, This made me wonder how many other Black boys who may be at the school on a scholarship (my son is not) have to endure this behaviour.

    April 24, 2009 at 8:29 am |
  31. Amy

    These bullies need to be punished and I don't mean a slap on the wrist. First they need to see their victim in the morgue–see what their actions accomplished. Then they need to do some time in juvenile hall and when they get out, finish up their sentances with a mandatory year or two's worth of attendance at meetings for parents of murdered children. Once we start some strict sentancing and really empower our kids at school and beyond, maybe we'll see a difference.

    As for the school administration, they need to take a personal hit if they know of a bullying situation and do nothing about it. If Johnny says he told Mr. Smith and the bullying continues, Mr. Smith should lose a chunk of his paycheck. That may convince him to help Johnny. Don't make it only about the school district, make the teachers, counselors and other adminstration personally responsible if they know what's going on and don't actively pursue a resolution. Medical and education personnel are required by law to report other forms of abuse; why not add bullying to that list of types of abuse? This is serious. We can't ignore the cries of our kids anymore. Just ask Ms. Bermudez, Jaheem's mother.

    April 24, 2009 at 8:12 am |
  32. Marie

    I can't put words in this posting to begin to tell that Mother how sorry I am for her lost, What I am also sorry for is that the school staff let this boy down and he probably felt that he had no where else to turn. Imagine being 11 years old and feeling that noone is going to help and the best answer to this is to take your self out of the equation. My heart hurts for his family. I hope that they hold the school, the bully and the bully's parents accountable for this. It has become a scary world lately.....

    April 24, 2009 at 8:06 am |
  33. Cathy Mallette

    Disappointed that the time given to this subject was not longer. it is a huge issue in the lives of our children and their families. You gave is the information about what happened -now what? Barbara Colorosa has some important educational/inspiring/life changing advice and clear -cut step by step methods for dealing with this issue. She deserves the time to get her mesage out!

    April 24, 2009 at 7:25 am |
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