Mother of gay 9-year-old who died by suicide after being bullied feels ‘responsible’ for his death
The mother of a 9-year-old who died by suicide after experiencing homophobic bullying has spoken out in an emotional interview.
9-year-old Jamel Myles of Denver, Colorado, is believed to have taken his own life just days after beginning fourth grade at Joe Shoemaker Elementary School last week.
His family says he was subjected to homophobic bullying from classmates prior to his death.
Jamel’s mother Leia Rochelle Pierce spoke out today in an interview with the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show, frequently sobbing as she discussed what happened to her son.
She said: “Do you want to know what it’s like to be dead while you’re still alive? Lose your child.
“It’s painful. Your heart breaks every second. You don’t know what to do anymore because the one you’re used to having around isn’t around anymore. Life isn’t fair anymore. That’s what it’s like.
“I’m a mess. If it wasn’t for my daughters and my mum, I honestly don’t know what I would do.”
She explained that she believes her son came out to a classmate at school, only to be subjected to homophobic taunts and bullying.
The mother said: “He told me he was proud of who he was and he didn’t mind telling people, but I’m pretty sure he told someone who got that whole persona of ‘that’s not OK’ and decided to pick on him. I’m pretty sure he just told one person and it spread, and became a worse situation.”
There was little external sign that anything was wrong in the days prior to his death.
She said: “He would come home and give me a hug, tell me he loves me, take my laptop and play on his games.”
He did open up to his 14-year-old sister, however.
Pierce said: “My son came home and told her kids at school were telling him to kill himself. He didn’t come to me, and it hurts because I would have understood and I would have defended him. But he and his older sister were so close, he would tell her everything.”
The mother says the school “were very aware he was being bullied.”
She said: “The school just called me today and said they’re going to work on suicide prevention. I told them, before we work on suicide prevention, we need to stop bullying, because the bullying is what’s leading to the suicides.
“Instead of skipping over bullying to suicides, we need to stop at the bullying and correct it.”
She added: “I feel responsible because as a mother I should have felt his pain, I should have known he was hurt and I didn’t. I feel responsible because I didn’t see the pain in my baby’s eyes.
“I’m his mum, and I should have just known, and I didn’t. It’s my fault I didn’t know.”
On air next… Exclusive: “A gentle kind soul just left this world because of something so cruel.”
— Victoria Derbyshire (@VictoriaLIVE) August 29, 2018
Asked what she would tell gay children, Pierce said: “I would tell them they’re beautiful, and they’re special, and there’s nothing different about them that should be pointed out to make them feel any type of way other than loved.
“We are all different, and our difference is what makes us equal because it’s the one thing we have in common. We’re all supposed to embrace eachother.
“Regardless of if they’re gay or not, they should all feel loved, beautiful, special, welcomed and warm. They should feel that wherever they go, people will treat them equal and no different than another.”
Addressing parents, she said: “Teach your kids love. Teach them it’s OK to have differences, because we’re all different. Nobody’s the same, and if we were all the same this world would be so boring.
Teach your kids compassion, respect, teach them to be more accepting of eachother. Teach them that if you don’t like something or someone, it’s OK to be quiet and walk away and just keep it to yourself – you don’t always have to say mean or rude things to people.”
She added: “Teach them it’s OK to [give people] words of encouragement – it doesn’t matter if you’re the bully or if you’re not the bully, there’s pain in everybody. Unit we correct the pain and the hurt that’s in everyone, nothing will change. We have to change ourselves for our children.”
Pierce added: “I don’t want anyone else to feel this pain. Tomorrow’s the last day I get to see my son and it’s not fair, and I feel so bad for any other parent who experiences this. I never want anyone to experience this.
“I never want a child to feel alone, I never want a parent to feel broken. I want everyone to feel love. My son wanted to make a change in this world and show people love, and he can’t speak right now but I’m speaking words he spoke for everyone to hear, because everyone needs to hear it.
“A gentle, kind, soul just left this world because of something so cruel, and I want my son to know he made a change for the better because of his genuine person.
“I’m sorry that this world doesn’t get to see what a true treasure he is, and what he could have been.”
In a statement, the school said: “Our deepest sympathies go out to Jamel Myles’ family and the entire [school] community. We are very saddened by Jamel’s tragic loss.
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“At DPS, we are deeply committed to ensuring that all members of the school community are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or transgender status. It is critical that our students receive all the supports they need to learn and thrive in a safe and welcoming environment.
“Our formal policies and practices reflect this commitment to ensuring that our LGBTQ+ students can pursue their education with dignity – from policies and training to prevent and stop bullying to formal policies and guidance materials that fully respect gender identity (including use of preferred pronouns and restrooms).
“Our priority right now is to help all students and adults with the grief they are experiencing, to better understand all the facts surrounding this tragic loss, and to do all we can to prevent another tragedy of this nature in the future.”
Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org). Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.