By Joe Beck -firstname.lastname@example.org
Bullying in school played a major part in the suicide of a 13-year-old Stephens City girl earlier this week, her mother said Friday.
The woman's voice broke as she described her daughter as "very smart, loving, caring, a helper, and a friend."
"Her dad and I are devastated," she added.
The Northern Virginia Daily's policy is not to report on suicides, except when the information is already widely known and likely to be of unusual interest to much of the community.
The girl's mother said it was clear months ago that something was troubling her daughter.
The mother said she thought it was most likely the product of turbulent, emotionally charged events within the family.
Emotional pain inflicted by bullies at Robert E. Aylor Middle School did not surface as a possible issue until after the girl's father discovered her body in the family home after 6 a.m. Wednesday, she said.
The mother said the girl's friends and their parents contacted her in the last few days and spoke of bullying in school as a major source of emotional turmoil that led to the suicide.
"We knew she was dealing with something, and she was in an immense amount of pain, but we didn't know how to get it out of her," the mother said.
She said she is determined to spread the word that hostility from some classmates at school contributed to her daughter's suicide. The goal, she said, is to try to prevent the same pressures from causing another teenager to take her life.
"It's the worst nightmare you ever have to go through," the mother said. "And I don't want any other mother to go through it."
The woman said she is rounding up "a whole bunch" of like-minded parents to press their case at the next school board meeting for more bullying awareness and prevention efforts.
"We'll try to get justice for her," the mother said, referring to her daughter.
Steve Edwards, coordinator of policy, records management, and communications for Frederick County Public Schools, repeated statements made Thursday that school officials do not believe bullying contributed to the suicide.
"As far as our contention that bullying in school did not play a role in her suicide, we absolutely stand by that," Edwards said Friday.
Edwards said Aylor administrators, faculty and staff had "been very proactive" on bullying prevention, citing what he described as "a very good program" at the school designed to curb the problem.
The school also continues to offer counseling and other support to students and adults at Aylor struggling to cope with the tragedy, he said.
The suicide remains under investigation by the Frederick County Sheriff's Office. The family and the Sheriff's Office are awaiting the final autopsy report. Capt. John Heflin said police were called to the scene about 6:24 a.m. Wednesday. He said the department is not ready to release information on the manner or cause of death.
"We received no report of cyber bullying during our investigation," Heflin said. "We came across correspondence about bullying, but it did not deal with anybody in the Frederick County Public School System."
Heflin provided no details on the correspondence investigators found.
Edwards said the school system remains committed to "supporting the family as best we can."
The mother said her daughter excelled in many areas of life. She cited her willingness to take care of two older siblings, both autistic and vulnerable to seizures, as an example of her big heart and commitment to the well being of others.
The girl also recently earned a first-degree black belt in judo, was part of the school's gifted and talented program and was a member of the A/B honor roll through the first quarter of this academic year. She earned 40 merit badges in scouting, her mother said.
"She would do anything to protect anybody, but she was the one who needed to be protected," the mother said of her daughter. "My husband and I didn't have a clue."
The girl's life began to descend into darkness late last year, her mother said. She blamed wrenching experiences, first at school and then at home early this year for the pain that led her daughter to take her life.
Since her death, the mother said, several school friends have spoken about an incident early in the school year..
"From that point on, it just went downhill," her mother said. Her daughter's grades dropped, and her personality changed. She said her daughter started cutting herself and made it plain that "she just got to what I call a very harsh place."
The mother said her daughter at one point sought help from school administrators, "but they said, 'oh no, we can't do anything about that.'''
Edwards said he would not comment directly on the accusation, but then added: "One thing I would say is that every person who works for Frederick County schools does so for one reason, and that is to serve our students. Any reports of suspected bullying are investigated and addressed."
Classmates at school responded to the girl's increased vulnerability by stepping up their bullying, the mother said. They "homed in on it, and they started bullying her, and it got so bad, she couldn't deal with it anymore," she said.
The woman said her daughter's friends described the bullying as mostly verbal, but that is no consolation to her.
"Words can hurt harder than any fist," she said.