More than 100 people attended a prayer service last night in memory of 10-year-old Ashlynn Conner, an Illinois fifth grader who took her life on Friday. Police are investigating whether bullying caused the young honor student to commit suicide.
Her mom, Stacy Conner, said she had planned to meet with the school principal this week after Ashlynn complained she was being taunted by schoolmates who called her fat, ugly and worse.
“She was called a slut in school and she came home and told me she didn’t even know what that word meant,” said Stacy Conner. “I didn’t tell her what that word meant. She’s too young to know what that word means.”
Grief counselors, social workers and school psychologists spoke with Ashlynn’s classmates at Georgetown Ridge Farm Elementary School in Georgetown, Ill.
“We’ve had death before due to accidents and illness but nothing like this,” said Kevin Tate, interim superintendent of Georgetown-Ridge Farm Schools. Tate is also a neighbor, who lives two houses away from Ashlynn’s family. He is one of many in this small town trying to cope with the news. “She had just come over last week. She seemed like a happy-go-lucky, good-natured girl. I just can’t get a handle on it.”
Two weeks ago, the taunting got so bad that Ashlynn reportedly asked her mother if she could be home- schooled. The following day, Ashlynn was found in a closet, hanging by a scarf. Her teenaged sister made the grim discovery.
Preliminary autopsy results indicate a death by hanging, but Vermillion County Coroner Peggy Johnson said the investigation is in its infancy. “We’re still putting all of the pieces together,” she said, “since bullying was brought to our attention, we need to dig deeper into that.”
Vermillion County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn said his department is investigating whether Ashlynn may have been bullied through email, text messages and Twitter.
Tate said his school district has strict policies and zero-tolerance when it comes to bullying, but in light of Ashlynn’s death, they’ll re-examine their procedures. ”This should be a wake -up call for parents, and for all of us,” he said.
Ashlynn’s mother describes her daughter as always smiling and always going out of her way to help others. Stacy Conner recalls one instance when “she brings this bag down the hall just dragging it down the hallway,” said Stacy Conner, “they were her clothes and she wanted them to go to Haiti because they needed them more than she did.”
In her death, Ashlynn is still helping others. Her family has donated her organs to at least three recipients.
Ashylynn’s aunt, Kim Wright, hopes by coming forward in the midst of her family’s grief, Ashlynn’s story can save other children struggling with the taunts of bullies.
“If she just saves one child from being bullied, if one bully gets this message and thinks about it and says, I’m not going to make another kid feel that way … she did it,” said Wright.