July 1st, 2014
11:32 PM ET

"What are you, a bunch of morons!" – Abbie Bartels' mother, upon learning her child was banned from graduation

Roughly one year ago, 14-year-old Abbie Bartels took her own life, hanging herself in her bedroom closet.

A student at the Milton Hershey School, Bartel had been barred from attending her graduation, a decision her family maintains lead to the suicide.

"I said 'what are you, a bunch of morons,'" recalled Abbie's mother, Julie Bartels, in relaying the story to CNN's Gary Tuchman.

As the anniversary of Bartels' death nears, Tuchman traveled to Pennsylvania, examining the circumstances which lead to the tragedy, visiting the boarding school, and interviewing family members and legal experts.

Watch the above video for Tuchman's full report as shared with John Berman Tuesday evening.

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Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gary Tuchman
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. skc88

    Look at the person you are today and tell me MHS didn't shape you in some way

    July 4, 2014 at 12:43 am |
  2. Sarah Bonner

    The school was undoubtedly callous. Their policy doesn't protect students so much as stink of holier-than-thou elitism. I've never heard of a school that barred a previous student from even so much as being an audience member or joining an after party if that student was nonviolent. I went to a boarding school, too, and we were not only allowed to invite non-family members to events, but were -encouraged- to do so.

    That all being said, people should not universally blame the school for her suicide. She obviously had deep emotional issues. The school was the straw that broke the camel's back, but it didn't set her on the path long-term. She needed structured therapy, not just being released into a 'positive' environment.

    July 3, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
    • skc88

      I am a graduate and a suicide survivor(twice) it is easy to cast blame but ultimately the blame lies solely with Abby. We can never know what is in the mind of a person when they commit suicide. To cast blame or to blame your self only delays acceptance. The only way to find peace is to accept their death and ask God to remind us every day of the blessings we received while they were with us

      July 4, 2014 at 12:33 am |
      • jcberry3

        You "survived" suicide? Are you a ghost?

        July 19, 2014 at 11:11 am |
  3. memay2014

    This is so sad! Abby was not a threat to anyone. At a time when she was struggling and needed a positive emotional boost, the school did the exact opposite and kicked her when she was down. Even if she was showing signs of having emotional struggles at the time, just being educated on the 'facts' of the perpetrators of violent crimes committed in schools would show that 99% are committed by males. The school has no valid argument stating that they were "looking out for the safety of other students. Another 'policy' that has done more harm than good. So, so sad!

    July 2, 2014 at 9:56 pm |
    • skc88

      And if she had been the one female to commit a mass crime what then

      July 4, 2014 at 12:40 am |
      • fascinatedspectator

        There was NO evidence that she would have ever done any such thing! Did you watch the video and READ the article?
        The school's psychologist wrote in her report that Abby was not a threat to anyone! The decision to forbid her from even attending the ceremony was seemingly in direct conflict with the written evaluations that the school had on file for her! These are likely some overzealous elitists who obviously know NOTHING about psychology nor anything about normal adolescent emotional behavior! There was NO reason for this malicious and very intentional attack on Abby by the school! I think the school should be held responsible for her death!

        July 22, 2014 at 10:29 am |
  4. prozey

    I signed this petition. http://www.change.org/petitions/pennsylvania-attorney-general-kathleen-kane-abbie-bartels-has-died-after-indefensible-hershey-school-decisions-it-s-time-to-put-child-welfare-professionals-in-charge-before-any-more-children-are-harmed Help change the policies before something like this happens again.

    July 2, 2014 at 6:04 pm |
  5. Supergirl

    To Milton Hershey School, it's alumni, Mr Cooper and to those interested in any way regarding the Anderson Cooper story done on CNN, I issue the following statement: I am grateful to have attended Milton Hershey, alive and thrive today because of it and it's ALL because of my upbringing. I am going NOT going to sit by and read/listen to the hate for a school that saved my life. I was a damaged child as well. A true orphan, no parents at all. I HATED the school, hated chores, hated barn hated everyone. It wasn't until middle school that my houseparents were able to get me to crack a smile. Many of you have NO idea what some of these children at MHS have had to face in their young years, but I do. I owe my smile today to my Lord and to my houseparents Mr and Mrs Graham. I have to stand FIRM on the fact that this school has helped countless of children, including me. THIS IS A PRIVATE SCHOOL AND CAN CONDUCT THEMSELVES AS THEY SEE FIT TO. While EVERY school, church and person has things to work on, you cannot dismiss all of the good that has come, is coming and will come in the future because this school exists. If you want to change things, you must be the change you wish to see. Instead of advocating hate, get off your chairs and make a difference. This is a tragic death, but if you understood that at least 70% of students who attend, suffer from depression and abandonment issues, you'd see that while Milton Hershey school isn't perfect, it is striving to be better than it was yesterday. Children die every day at my school in Uganda because of lack of food and medicine.....but I don't stop and I hope the same for Milton Hershey School. Standing up for values and things you think are for the betterment of society is commendable, but unless you are backing that up with love, you are no better than the opposite side of that which you are defending. This was tragic as any loss of a child is but you cannot have a one sided argument and you CERTAINLY cannot change anything by sitting on your computer and typing about it. Open a school, an orphanage a safe-house.....THEN you can say you are doing some good, in light of what you feel has been done wrong.

    July 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm |
    • prozey

      This school may have saved your life, but it obviously destroyed her life.

      July 2, 2014 at 5:40 pm |
      • shan619

        The school she so desperately wanted to be a part of destroyed her life? Sounds like it was the best thing she had going. The school has policies in place for a reason. I wouldn't expect you to understand that though, seeing the way you are attacking people on this thread. It appears as though this may be the best thing YOU have going.

        July 2, 2014 at 6:35 pm |
    • fascinatedspectator

      I'm glad for YOUR fortunate outcome, but Abby's was clearly NOT fortunate in any way! Your single success story does not absolve MHS of their responsibility to ALL of their students, not just their favorites! I have seen NO justification for how Abby was treated in light of their OWN glowing psychological evaluations of her, especially so close to what SHOULD have been her GRADUATION, but was not, ONLY because they PREVENTED her from graduating, NOT because of any lack of effort nor achievement!! This was unconscionable!

      July 22, 2014 at 10:40 am |
  6. BernardCharles

    I am sending peaceful rays and lots of empathy! I understand that living at that school doesn't always feel like roses and sunshine. We are strong and if any students or parents wanna talk real about the school, you can shine your light and talk to me. <3 I graduated from MHS 5 years ago and can vividly recall the energy that school expresses.

    July 2, 2014 at 12:53 pm |
  7. warthog6

    A camel is a horse designed by committee. A Milton suicide is a Columbine massacre prevented by the faculty.

    Here's my question. Out of the $12 billion endowment they enjoy, along with the capabilities it confers, how is it that those who couldn't figure how to spend it to avoid both are still allowed to attend graduation themselves.

    Those who barred the victim should be barred from holding an office that permits child-killing decisions on either end of the scale, whether by accident or design.

    Those who can't manage those who can.

    July 2, 2014 at 12:33 pm |
    • memay2014

      I agree with you. This tragic situation 'may' have been avoided if "empathy" was placed before "policy". When robots are running the show these tragedies happen. Another failed 'system'!

      July 2, 2014 at 10:07 pm |
  8. codepink1908

    So let me get this straight. Abbie was barred from attending the graduation ceremony as well as the after party but she was more than welcomed to be buried in the campus cemetery? I don’t know whose final decision it was but it’s disturbing to know that NO one said “wait this is unwarranted and unnecessary”; instead, the powers that be had no qualms about enforcing such a gross display of indifference to a student who has been at that school from the age of 4!

    July 2, 2014 at 10:10 am |
    • mcginnisk

      You obviously do not understand the primary function of the school. Have you ever read the Deed of Trust? Abbie was placed on a leave of absence after repeated incidents of posing a threat to the safety and wellbeing of other students. I do not blindly defend the school, but this entire story is not really about Abbie Bartels at all. I 100% trust the wisdom of the private, no cost home for underprivileged children to ask the family to kindly refrain from breaking the terms of Abbie's suspension. The threat to bring security to the event only came as a result of violent responses from the other side. Who could have known that this 8th grade graduation was the be all and end all of Abbie's existence? Instead of choking down the family interviews and sob stories, remember that they are the reason Abbie was enrolled at the school to begin with, and the suicide occurred under their watch. Milton Hershey School didn't have to pay for the entire funeral, nor honor Abbie with a burial in the Hershey cemetery directly adjacent to Milton Hershey himself, but we did it because we saw Abbie as our sister. You do not know about Milton Hershey School student families the way that I do; don't ever believe the bias of a single narrow lense. The school has not even made a formal response to the public yet.

      July 2, 2014 at 12:03 pm |
      • prozey

        Threat the safety and well-being of other students? She was depressed, not a psychopath. Who could have known that this 8th grade graduation was the be all and end all of Abbie's existence? Obviously the professionals at both Philhaven, PPI, and her own Psychiatrist who was employed at the school knew. They all suggested she remain with the school and attend her graduation. What did the school do? The EXACT OPPOSITE. You are a moron.

        July 2, 2014 at 5:53 pm |
        • mcginnisk

          Way to resort to anonymous name-calling and ad hominem attacks. If you have something to say, you should own it with your name.

          July 2, 2014 at 6:35 pm |
          • shan619

            Trolls are cowards who aren't worth your time. You're spot on.

            July 2, 2014 at 6:37 pm |
          • prozey

            I know the facts, you don't. That's what matters to me. Good day.

            July 2, 2014 at 7:02 pm |
          • fascinatedspectator

            You may not "like" prozey's opinion, but from the evidence provided so far, including the reports and evaluations from the school psychologist who actually EVALUATED Abby, they clearly did the EXACT OPPOSITE of their own recommendations!
            Like it or not Prozey hit the nail square on the head!

            July 22, 2014 at 10:50 am |
  9. shkai692003

    Kiernan, you are the one without all the facts, CNN was given everything and Was able to see what was going on, you are blinded by your sheepish dedication to your school.

    July 2, 2014 at 10:09 am |
    • mcginnisk

      Yes, I've been living through this situation for over a year now, dealing with the flak, and Gary Tuchman comes to Hershey for one day, while I've lived here for a lifetime, and he has all the facts over me...

      July 2, 2014 at 11:49 am |
  10. mcginnisk

    As a 2012 graduate of the school with 3 siblings still enrolled, there is no reason to be so quick to condemn the Milton Hershey School. There is so much back story regarding the case of Abbie Bartels, and having personally dealt with the mother, consoled my younger brother who sat next to Abbie in band practice, and placed a flower on her grave, I still cannot make any sense of the tragedy. I can say though with absolute certainty that there was no foul play on the part of the school. This entire campaign has been instigated by Ric Fouad, an estranged alumnus of the school who has unsuccessfully attempted to sue the Hershey Trust more than half a dozen times since 2003. Instead of letting Abbie Bartels rest in peace, he has pounced on her suicide to induce yet another frivolous suit against the school for his own selfish politically charged purposes. I would have hoped that CNN would have better researched this story, but these yellow journalists could obviously care less about the complex shades of grey defining the truth. Anderson Cooper has had a personal vendetta against the school ever since a scandal a few years back involving a potential student denied admission because of a positive HIV diagnosis. The school made the wrong ruling in this instance, but I'd like to see anyone keep something like that confidential living in direct daily contact of 12 teenage boys. Anyway, a few days after Cooper disparaged Milton Hershey School, he came out of the closet. I could care less about Cooper's lifestyle, but I'm trying to illustrate a trend of bias. Please do some more research into the marvelous legacy of Milton Hershey before you blindly accept this narrow-minded rendition of events!

    July 2, 2014 at 3:54 am |
    • prozey


      July 2, 2014 at 5:55 pm |
    • fascinatedspectator

      Anderson Cooper's so-called "trend of bias" appears to be A.P. simply DOING HIS JOB! DUH!
      Reporters do not require your personal permission to report the news as the facts show! You are clearly WAY TOO close to this organization to have any objective point of view! Anderson asked significant, relevant questions that deserved proper answers! That is his job!

      July 22, 2014 at 10:58 am |
  11. ridgerunner464

    This story regarding Milton Hershey School did not surprise me in the least. Years ago my daughter was a student there. At age 9 she told her father that her housefather had been molesting her for a year; complete sexual abuse in every way. What did Milton Hershey School do about it? They moved the housemother to the clothing room where all students went for new clothes every school year, where she shot my daughter dirty looks and talked badly about her to the other employees, who sided with her. The housefather was moved to a job as janitor at the high school, where my daughter came upon him standing in the hall as classes changed, totally freaking her out. He made sure to be in the hallways whenever her classes changed. I had to remove her from the school before she had a full blown nervous breakdown. Milton Hershey School does not care about the wellbeing of the children under their care. A few years after she left the school she kept in touch with girls she had known there and discovered that she was not the only one of them to be sexually abused by houseparents. The school talked my ex-husband out of reporting the incident to the police, saying they would "take care of it". Like an idiot, he believed them, until it was too late to do anything legally about it. This sad incident of a Milton Hershey School student committing suicide over what the school did to her could have been the fate of my daughter if I – like her father – had refused to take her out of there.

    July 2, 2014 at 12:29 am |

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