Though the term "bullying" can conjure up innocuous images of playground teasing, one Denver, Colorado mom is here to remind us that the consequences can be devastating, and in this case, life-threatening. Leia Pierce, who is the mother of a bullied boy, 9, who died by suicide, believes parents should be held accountable for their children's bullying habits. Her son, Jamel Myles, was reportedly dealing with an onslaught of abuse from classmates just days after coming out as gay.
CBS News reported on Monday that Pierce took to Facebook to share the tragic news with family and friends. "I lost a reason to breathe… my heart, my sunshine, my son… he was being bullied and I didn't know. Not till it was to late," she wrote. In another interview with KDVR-TV, she explained that it was related to him coming out as gay. "He looked so scared when he told me. He was like, 'Mom I’m gay.' And I thought he was playing, so I looked back because I was driving, and he was all curled up, so scared. And I said, I still love you," she said. Pierce did not respond to Romper's immediate request for comment.
She went onto explain that he was "proud of himself," and wanted to open up to his classmates about who he really was. "He went to school and said he was gonna tell people he’s gay because he’s proud of himself," she said. "And he goes, 'Can I be honest with you?'" Pierce said. "And I was like sure, and he’s like, 'I know you buy me boy stuff because I’m a boy, but I’d rather dress like a girl.'"
Then, less than a few days into the new school year, Myles died by suicide. Pierce explained to KDVR-TV that her daughter claims some classmates suggested Myles "kill himself" after he came out. "Four days is all it took at school. I could just imagine what they said to him," she said. "My son told my oldest daughter the kids at school told him to kill himself. I’m just sad he didn’t come to me."
The Denver Post confirmed the child's death, and later, published part of a letter sent out to members of the Denver Public School district. Myles' school in particular will be employing extra social workers, as well as a crisis team particularly to help students cope with the loss. Pierce told the newspaper that parents needs to be held accountable for teaching their children how to behave and relate to other children, particularly those who are in any way different from them.
I think the parent should be held [responsible] because obviously the parents are either teaching them to be like that, or they're treating them like that.
Last year, CNN reported that LGBTQ youth face a "serious suicide risk," as new research revealed. The CDC's 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior survey found that 40% of "sexual minority" students (those who identify as LGBTQ) were "seriously considering suicide." John W. Ayers, a computational epidemiologist who works as an adjunct associate professor at San Diego State University, told CNN: "We want this to be a wake-up call and a call to action, so that this will become a part of the national agenda to address this very real public health crisis."
Stopbullying.gov explains that, though it is impossible to know exactly whether or not a child is being bullied, there are a handful of warning signs that may raise a red flag. Regardless, what's most important is that parents and guardians educate their children not only about what constitutes bullying and how to stop it, but that abusing another individual, especially for being different, is never acceptable, and can have serious, long-term consequences that should never be joked about.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or to your local suicide crisis center.
You can find more resources about suicide prevention at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. You can also find a local suicide crisis center near you here.