Joel Morales, a 12-year-old student in East Harlem, New York City, hanged himself after bullies at school taunted him for his size, intelligence and the death of his father, the New York Daily News reports.
Joel’s mother, Lizbeth Babilonia, found her son’s body hanging from a shower rod in the bathroom of their apartment at 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The paper reports Babilonia cut her son down with a knife, then had to be restrained by Inez Rodriguez, a neighbor, who kept the mother from stabbing herself with the blade.
“She had cut him down. She was trying to stab herself with the knife,” Rodriquez told the Daily News. “I knocked it out of her hand.”
According to the New York Post, the bullying caused Babilonia to transfer Joel to a new school, where the abuse nevertheless continued.
My daughter complained to the teachers. She was complaining and complaining,” Francisco Babilonia, Joel’s grandfather, told the Post. “It stopped for a while but it started again. The kids knew he moved and they went to the after-school club and waited for him.”
Relatives of Joel told WPIX-TV that the family filed a police report, obtained an order of protection against one of the bullies, and met with parents of the boys involved, all to no avail.
A vigil was held in front of the boy’s apartment building where Joel’s aunt, Angelica Babilonia, told the Post she was outraged to see some of the bullies admist the candles and prayer.
“He was an angel. No one should have to go through this. I just want him back,” Angelica told the paper.
Joel’s tragic story reflects on an alarming number of similar instances across the country, the most prominent of which is likely the death of Jamey Rodemeyer, who took his life at the age of 14 last September. Rodemeyer cast a national spotlight on gay bullying in schools, particularly the complex emotional and social issues that lead to extreme measures like suicide.
The teenager killed himself after posting a viral “It Gets Better” video, and his case drew further national attention when Lady Gaga vowed on Twitter to make bullying illegal — even going to the president himself to address the issue.
Rodemeyer’s death has cast a national spotlight on gay bullying in schools, particularly the complex emotional and social issues that lead to extreme measures like suicide.
While police ultimately said the bullying Rodemeyer endured could not be considered criminal, a lawsuit brought by the parents of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Irish immigrant in Massachusetts who committed suicide after relentless bullying in 2010, was settled for $225,000.
Most recently, 13-year-old Rachel Ehmke hanged herself after months of abuse by her peers at Kasson/Mantorville Middle School in Minnesota. The family has said that they do not plan to press charges against those who bullied Rachel, but do wish that the school had taken heavier measures against the bullies when the taunting was first reported in the fall.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Other school bullying incidents: