Detroit boy, 7, who died was depressed, mom says
- By Oralandar Brand-Williams, George Hunter and Christine Ferretti
- The Detroit News
Detroit— The mother of a 7-year-old boy found hanging in his bedroom Wednesday told police her son had been depressed over the separation from his dad and bullying by schoolmates.
The boy was discovered by his 14-year-old sister hanging from a bunk bed by a fabric belt at the family’s home in the 700 block of Pingree near New Center.
The sister, looking through a keyhole of the boy’s bedroom, saw the child hanging. She summoned her mother, who quickly grabbed him and held his body upwards “to relieve the stress of his body weight” as a neighbor removed the belt from around his neck, according to police.
The mother told police the boy was bullied at school because he was being raised in a mostly female household. Neighbors said he was the only boy among his mom’s four daughters.
Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee said authorities are continuing their investigation, although they suspect suicide.
“The report from my officers indicates bullying may have been the genesis of this, or had a connection,” Godbee said Thursday. “To a person, it’s difficult to comprehend a 7-year-old planning a suicide like that, so we’re keeping all possibilities open. We haven’t come to a final conclusion on anything, and are waiting until we do, but preliminarily, that’s what we’re going on. I spoke to homicide, and they won’t leave any stone unturned. We’re going to investigate this fully.”
While results are pending from the autopsy completed Thursday, a neighbor whose child played with the boy said there was no sense anything was wrong with the youngster.
Tina Garrett, a neighbor across the street, said the little boy played with her daughter, 8, as recently as Wednesday.
“He was a bubbly little boy. He went back in the house. He seemed to be OK,” Garrett said Thursday.
The child attended University Preparatory Academy in Detroit. “We’re diligently looking into everything,” Sgt. Eren Stephens, spokeswoman for the Detroit Police Department said Thursday. “On the surface, it appears to be a suicide.”
Schools officials refused comment on the incident, as did family members. Garrett said the little boy often played with her daughter, riding up and down the street on his bike.
Garrett said she had to explain to her daughter what happened to her friend.
“She cried so bad last night; she didn’t want to go to sleep,” she said. “I told her, ‘If someone bullies you, don’t get depressed. Come talk to me so we can solve it.’”
Kevin Epling, who advocated for the passage of the state’s first anti-bullying statute, said it’s a growing problem that students are being confronted with daily. “A lot of adults think it’s not that big of an issue or no worse than it was when they were in school,” said Epling, who lost his 14-year-old son, Matt, to a bullying-related suicide in 2002. “It’s a totally different environment today in schools. There are a lot more pressures at younger ages on students. We as adults need to understand that it’s a different world.”
Epling said Thursday he’s “very saddened” by the boy’s death, but said it’s too early to make assumptions.
“We need to step back and wait for the information to come in,” said Epling, who is also co-director of Bully Police USA, a grass-roots anti-bullying nonprofit. “Right now the family needs the community’s support, especially the boy’s friends need support and guidance on how to deal with a loss and how the school needs to deal with the loss.”
Epling added he’s not heard of any suicides in children this young in the area.
“This is really the low-end of the scale that we’ve lost someone this young,” he said. “We have to really figure out what was going on in this young man’s life and draw the best conclusions we can without jumping ahead of the game.”
Detroit City Council member Saunteel Jenkins, who has introduced an anti-bullying ordinance for the city of Detroit said, “For any child who thinks their only option is death, it’s heartbreaking (and) devastating.”
Jenkins added: “It just bring tears to my eyes to think about what that family is going through and what that baby was going through. Bullying, in general, is a difficult issue that can be dealt with. It takes everybody being on board and putting forth the effort to stop bullying. Fortunately for this chief, it is a priority.”
News staff writers Darren Nichols and Josh Katzenstein contributed.