Even the proudest seeming children are at risk of the dangers of bullying.
The parents of a Tennessee seventh-grader learned that the hard way when their son died by apparent suicide after classmates bullied him for how he dressed, saying that he’d go to hell for being gay.
According to reports, Eli Fritchley (above) took his own life on November 28. His parents told local TV station WKRN that the middle schooler wasn’t afraid to be himself — he liked to paint his nails and loved pink — and they thought he “didn’t care” what his classmates had to say about it.
His parents explained:
“He didn’t care, or at least we thought he didn’t care, and that’s what’s really difficult for us because we thought he didn’t care.”
Fritchley’s mother Debbey told WKRN that her son wore the same SpongeBob Squarepants sweatshirt most days, which his classmates likely used as ammo against him. She explained:
“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon.”
Eli’s bullies also apparently told him he was gay — and doomed to be punished for eternity because of it. Debbey added:
“He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to Hell. They told him that quite often.”
Fritchley’s parents said they knew he was being bullied, but didn’t think it bothered him to the extent that it actually did. His father Steve told WKRN:
“It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt… This has just blindsided us. This is something we would have never, ever expected.”
Debbey noted that although he was loved more than he realized, the people who cared for Eli failed him by assuming he could handle being consistently bullied. She confessed:
“We all failed him. We all failed him. It’s as simple as that.”
Looking ahead, they hope no other child is failed by their loved ones. The Fritchleys are planning to set up a foundation to educate people on bullying and suicide awareness. Meanwhile, local restaurant Penalties Sports Bar & Grill is helping by creating a GoFundMe. Shondelle Lewis, co-owner of the restaurant, said:
“This is a growing area and I think people need to be more accepting of new people, rather they like them, rather they are the same as them, everybody’s different. Accept them and respect them and parents need to focus on that with their kids more.”
Superintendent of Bedford County Schools Tammy Garrett said the school district will investigate creating additional social and emotional education programs for local schools, especially in the middle and high schools, saying in a statement:
“We are absolutely shocked and devastated by this news. Anytime someone takes his or her life, especially a child, it is nearly unbearable. Our hearts go out to his parents and family as they deal with this terrible loss.”
We need to do better.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
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