12-year-old girl threatened suicide 2 months before her death; school did not report: Lawsuit

Madison Ocheltree texted her friend about her suicidal intentions.

December 5, 2019, 6:23 PM

A California couple is suing their daughter's school district over claims that the principal and counselor and other unnamed defendants "failed and refused" to take action after learning that the 12-year-old had suicidal thoughts about two months before the girl died by suicide.

Dan and Morgan Ocheltree allege that principal Clint Johnson and school counselor Todd Tyler knew about a text message their daughter, Madison, sent to a friend on April 5 that said she was planning her suicide, according to the lawsuit which was obtained by ABC News.

The suit alleges that the two didn't offer proper counseling to her and never made them aware.

According to the suit, Tyler conducted one counseling session with Madison on the day the text message was reported. Tyler had Madison complete a questionnaire and had her return to class, the suit says. There were no further follow-up counseling sessions and no mention of the incident to her parents, according to the suit.

"The parents never had an opportunity to intercept," attorney Steven Gurnee told ABC News in a telephone interview on Thursday. "And a month later, she did exactly what she had said she was gonna do."

Madison died by suicide on May 24.

Maddison Ocheltree is seen in this undated photo.
Courtesy Ocheltree Family

Johnson and Tyler were allegedly shown the text message by a concerned teacher.

The school's policy at the time, according to the the lawsuit, was that once officials learned of a student's suicidal intentions, they "shall then notify the student's parents/guardians as soon as possible."

"Had they followed their policy, we believe it wouldn't have happened," Gurnee said.

Johnson and Tyler did not respond to ABC News for comment.

Maddison Ocheltree is seen in this undated photo.
Courtesy Ocheltree Family

The school district said in a statement to ABC News that they "cannot comment publicly on a pending lawsuit."

"The subject of this lawsuit is a tragedy that shook our community and left parents, teachers, and students grieving and in shock," the statement read. "We join our community in grieving this profound and heartbreaking loss."

Candace Shirley, another attorney representing the Ocheltrees, said the school has taken "a very hard-lined position that they just had no duty" to report the text message.

The school district has also changed their policy to make any reporting to parents "discretionary" since Madison's death, Shirley told ABC News.

Gurnee also said that the school has claimed that they weren't mandated to tell Madison's parents.

"We believe the contrary -- not believe, it's well documented in their own policy," he said.

The original negligent and wrongful death complaint was filed on Oct. 7, and after the school responded that they didn't have a duty to report, an amended version was filed on Nov. 21 in the Superior Court of California in Sutter County.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.