Parents Blame Bullies for 5th-Grade Suicide

The bedroom bears the telltale signs of a typical boy on the cusp of his teen years: discarded food wrappers, video game consoles, clothes scattered on the floor.

The disarray hides tragedy inside the suburban Kansas City home. The room is a memorial to Brandon Myers, who killed himself in February 2007. He was 12.

For Kim Myers, her youngest son's death is the result of what she calls incessant bullying that his teachers and other administrators at Voy Spears Elementary School failed to stop.

"He was teased in class on the day he died for acting depressed," said Myers, a single parent. "He was screaming for help. If he had got the help he needed, he would still be alive."

The details of how Brandon was harassed - and the school's response - are incomplete. Myers has hired an attorney and said she plans to sue the Blue Springs School District for her son's wrongful death. She and her ex-husband, Brandon's father, don't want to jeopardize the pending lawsuit by discussing it publicly.

A school district lawyer said officials would discuss only Brandon's "educational experience" with The Associated Press, and then only with his parents' permission.

The case is not without precedent. In 2005, a small-town teenager from Tonganoxie, Kan. who was bullied for years by classmates because they believed he was gay was awarded $440,000 in a settlement against a school district. The student, who said he was not gay, he was harassed with homophobic slurs from seventh grade until he quit school before graduating.

For Brandon, life was never easy. Born with a cleft palate, he endured several corrective surgeries that improved his smile but didn't get rid of a pronounced speech impediment. His parents divorced when he was five. Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the third grade, and later depression, he took a daily chemical cocktail to combat those impulses and regularly saw a counselor outside school.

In the days and weeks leading up to his suicide, Brandon dropped several hints to classmates and teachers that his troubles may have grown life-threatening, Kim Myers said. She didn't learn of those warning signs until it was too late.

Suicide has long been considered one of the greatest risks faced by vulnerable adolescents. But an increasing number of mental health experts warn that younger children such as Brandon are also susceptible.

Nationally, more than 1,600 children ages 10 to 14 committed suicide from 1999 through 2004, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Missouri, 34 children in that age group took their own lives from 2001 through 2005, state records show.

The direct effect of bullying on those suicides is impossible to determine.

But as in the case of Megan Meier - the 13-year-old suburban St. Louis girl who committed suicide after receiving cruel messages on a MySpace page - the social pressures that drive some children to suicide are immense, said bullying expert Hilda Quiroz.

"Schools are social settings," said Quiroz, a former teacher who now works for the California-based National School Safety Center. "And in social settings, there are kids who wield power."

A nationwide survey of more than 15,000 students in grades six to 10 showed that 30 percent reported experience with bullying - 11 percent as targets, 13 percent as bullies themselves and an additional 6 percent who said they had been both aggressor and victim.

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