The family of Phillip Spruill Jr. was left devastated when they discovered that the 11-year-old took his own life because of bullying at school.
Spruill, an African-American, was in the fifth grade of the Benjamin B. Comgys Elementary school in Philadelphia. He transferred to there in September of last year, reported The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The young boy's body was discovered on the evening of Friday, April 12, by one of his younger brothers. His grandmother is now speaking out about what happened.
Speaking on Sirius XM's "The Clay Cane Show," Linda Lash-Smith described her grandson as a "very sensitive little boy. He loved to laugh. He loved to play. He wanted to make friends with everybody he saw. He was a very kind little boy."
Yet the other kids chose not to return Spruill's kindness. Instead, they made fun of him due to his weight. While Spruill hid his feeling to the outside world, inside, he was hurting.
Lash-Smith said that Spruill would open up to his mother, father, and grandmother, and was not afraid to show his tears in front of them. In response, they "tried to keep encouraging him," she said.
The 56-year-old woman admitted that they "just did not realize how deep he was hurting." Not only was he regularly bullied, even getting suspended several times for fighting, but Spruill was also tasked with protecting his younger brother.
The six-year-old was also teased for his love of dancing and twirling and would be called homophobic slurs by his peers. According to Lash-Smith, the school did not do enough when it came to the situation.
"I wish he wouldn’t have been failed by the system. There should have been alarms, red flags. Everything going off that this little boy needs help. … it shouldn’t have been put off.”
On the day it happened, Spruill did reach out to a school administrator, but he was told to wait since they were occupied with someone else. Spruill ran off to catch the bus so his little brother would not be left alone.
When he got home, he committed suicide. His younger brother said to their father, "My protector is gone." The school offered up the services of grief counselors to the student body.
The spokesperson for the School District, Lee Whacks, released a statement about the incident via email.
“We always take reports of bullying seriously. There were no founded instances of this child being bullied. The District and the Comegys school community are deeply saddened by the tragedy and we never want to see something like this happen. Young people have challenges and it is up to us to do our very best to support them.”
Spruill also suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression according to the family. Lash-Smith revealed that they are hoping that the school staff is held accountable and better trained to identify children who need help.
State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta is part of a chair named the Black Caucus which is working to pass legislation that will introduce anti-bullying into the state's curriculum.
A study conducted by the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio shows that there is almost double the occurrence of suicides among black children as compared to whites for children aged five through 12.
In contrast, the numbers switched between black and whites for children aged 13 to 17 in the study which ran from 2001 to 2015. Spruill's family was on the low-income end of the community.
His father is employed at a supermarket deli department and his mother works as a home health aide. She is currently trying to obtain her high school diploma. They share three other children including a three and a two-year-old.
A viewing was held for Spruill on Monday at the Ford Memorial Temple and was followed by a private funeral. While the family is devastated, they hope that their story can help others to prevent this from happening again.
Another family almost went through the same horrific loss when their seven-year-old son wanted to take his own life. Jack Wilkinson reportedly had anxiety disorder and was also being bullied at his school.
The Sydney boy was teased and called crazy by his peers. On the very first day of school, someone made him trip and fall. His mother Kristy Sturgess knew then that it would be a tough road ahead.
She didn't anticipate, however, that her son would one day want to give up totally. He left a note with a teacher saying "I don't want to be alive. God, just take me."
Sturgess knew something had to be done. She had her son express himself through art and began putting his creations on t-shirts. The art therapy saved her son and the t-shirts were sold with proceeds going towards other small kids who may need similar help.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.
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