Another child has tragically killed themselves after incessant bullying at school. According to the New York Daily News, 13-year-old Danny Fitzpatrick hung himself in his Staten Island home August 11, after leaving behind a heartbreaking note in which he named his bullies, described the ways they tormented him, and accused the school of not doing anything to help him.
In his note, the teen explains that when he returned to Holy Angels Catholic Academy after a temporary move, his previous friends had now become his bullies, at one point baiting him into a physical altercation. “I gave up,” the letter reads, “The teachers either, they didn’t do ANYTHING.” He also noted that while one teacher was very kind to him, her efforts to help didn’t last long. “I wanted to get out. I begged and [pleaded].” He ended his note, “I failed, but I didn’t care. I was out that’s all (I) wanted.”
In response to his devastating death, Daniel Fitzpatrick, Danny’s father, recorded an emotional video on Facebook Live just two days later that has since gone viral. In it, he reiterated the school’s lack of assistance after he and his wife went to the administration seeking help for their son. According to the Fitzpatrick’s, their concerns were mostly brushed off. Instead of any action taking place, they were told Danny “would be fine.”
But his main message was to the kids who relentlessly bullied his son — and to anyone who bullies others simply because they may be “different.”
“It ain’t right,” Fitzpatrick says, while crying into the camera. “I miss my son very much. No parent should have to bury their child. No child should have to go through what my son went through.”
Daniel called his son’s bullies “disgusting little monsters” before shifting his focus to their parents, saying: “All I have to say is I hope you never, never have to feel what I’m going through right now.”
Speaking with the Daily News, Danny’s mother Maureen Fitzpatrick expressed her anguish over the fact that justice could not be done while her son was still alive:
“My son shouldn’t have to die to be heard,” she told the paper. “There’s something wrong with the adults in authority positions when kids can’t go to them for help … No parent is supposed to bury their child.”
Following the news of Danny’s death, and his father’s emotional Facebook Live video, there has been an outpouring of sympathy and support across the Internet. Many have called for the school administrators to be held directly responsible for Danny’s death. Others wanted the bully’s parents to be put in jail.
Some commenters, however, posed that bullying is something every generation has dealt with and questioned that perhaps something more was at play. One particularly callous comment, left on a post by the Staten Island Advance, caught my eye:
“I’m calling ‘B.S’ on this one,” the user wrote. “You don’t kill yourself because you are ‘picked on.’ It takes far more guts to take your life than it does to deal with an absolutely new situation known as ‘bullying.’ It sounds like a mental-health problem. So, someone isn’t telling the whole story here. Is it the family, or the writer of the story? And for what purpose?”
Bullying may be far from new — and has likely plagued every generation since the dawn of time — but it’s certainly become more complex in recent years, thanks to technology. And it’s pretty hard to deny that it’s a growing problem.
At this point, we have only a few scant details about the events surrounding Danny’s death: We’re left only with his suicide note and the emotional pleas from his father to piece together the devastating narrative. Perhaps mental-health was an underlying issue that exasperated his despair. It’s also possible the school actually did its due diligence to intervene on Danny’s behalf. (According to Fox29, a spokesperson for the school claimed a counselor met with Danny three times to discuss the issues, though nothing more has been confirmed.)
But, the fact remains — a boy decided he would rather die than go to school to face his bullies for one more day. That in itself is shocking and deeply troubling. And perhaps saddest of all is the fact that Danny was far from alone: Children are killing themselves as a result of bullying at alarming rates. In fact, studies have found that half of all suicides among kids under 18 are related to bullying.
Let’s not forget: Children today are also far more vulnerable to harassment than previous generations. The Internet has made round-the-clock bullying possible in ways most of us never experienced, as social media allows bullies 24/7 access to their victims with countless creative ways to torment their prey. When I was brutally bullied, I could at least go home and get a reprieve from the harassment. Children today aren’t always so lucky.
I was tormented in middle school by a boy named Sam. He was methodical and sadistic in his taunting, and would bully me viciously by whispering nasty insults in my ear, always out of view from our teachers. I dreaded going to school for fear of running into him. I pretended to be sick often and maxed out my allowed absences. Although I was never suicidal, I can still feel the sting of foreboding and fear every time I walked through the school’s doors. About a year ago, I decided to look Sam up to see what had happened to him. What I found shocked me — he was in jail for murder. His mug shot revealed a man warped by his own insanity, high on meth, grinning with yellowed, rotting teeth.
If we are tempted to suspect bullying victims who end their lives suffer from underlying mental health issues, I pose that perhaps some bullies are the ones who may need immediate intervention and help, as well. Confident, secure, self-loving adults don’t usually like to spend their time bullying or trolling people. In the same way I doubt that confident, secure, self-loving children aren’t fond of brutally bullying their fellow classmates.
The truth is, bullying is often a complex issue with varying factors at play. Some people claim it’s a learned behavior and that the parents should be held accountable. But in my experience, Sam’s adoptive parents were loving and did everything they could to help him. Is bullying and being bullied a normal part of adolescence as emotionally immature children unconsciously jocky for social position? Or are mental health, troubled homes, and learned abusive behaviors at play? It’s hard to say, since every situation is as nuanced as the children participating in the behavior. But one thing is for sure, as far as I’m concerned: Chalking it all up to normal childhood antics with little adult intervention can leave our children vulnerable to devastating consequences.
When a child suffers in such an excruciating way that they’re driven to take their own life, our natural instinct is to seek justice — we want the bullies to be held responsible to the highest extent of the law, as well as the administrators and the parents. And after an investigation, perhaps we’ll find that serious consequences and action are in order for this case, too.
But let’s not forget the human condition. None of us are immune to suffering. As long as we’re human, we will experience insecurities and pain. When we suffer, many of us tend to hurt others to alleviate our own pain. Obviously how we manage our hurt varies wildly in severity. Not every insecure child will bully another child to their death. But, it’s safe to say that bullying, in some form, will likely stay with us as long as we’re walking this earth. Assuming that it’s “just a part of life” and that we should just accept it, grow some thick skin, and move on, misses an incredible opportunity for us to finally do something to drastically limit the incidences of traumatic bullying for the sake of our kids.
I won’t pretend to have the answers; none of us do. But I’m confident that education combined with serious consequences are a good place to start. When my city of Omaha, Nebraska began doling out jail time for DUI’s, our incidence of drunk driving related accidents and deaths dropped dramatically. I’m not implying we start throwing disinterested principals in jail, but treating emotional bullying as seriously as physical violence is a good place to start, especially when emotional abuse has scars that can last long into adulthood.
The bully and bullied need us to get it together. The path to progress starts with us and the conversation begins at home. For our children who aren’t blessed to have a safe home, well — they may need us the most.
If you would like to help in some way, a Go Fund Me page has since been set up in Danny’s honor. All proceeds will be put towards the fight to end bullying.More On