The family of a Florida middle-school boy who committed suicide in mid-September said he was driven to commit the desperate act by bullies.
Lamar Hawkins III
Lamar Hawkins III, 14, used his father’s gun—which his family said was stored properly—to shoot himself Sept. 10 in a bathroom at Greenwood Lakes Middle School, according to NBC Orlando affiliate WESH.
“It is a feeling that I hope no other parent has to feel,” said the teen’s mother, Shaniqua Hawkins, at a press conference. “The hopelessness was overwhelming.”
Hawkins said the family moved from New York to Florida to escape bullying, but it continued at the new school.
The teen, called “Shaq” by family members, had stunted growth, which his mother believed made him vulnerable to bullies. Hawkins said he was pushed down the stairs, knocked out of his chair in the cafeteria and mocked about his size, among other torments.
The family said they approached school officials about the harassment.
“I felt paralyzed by the inability to make the bullying stop at school. I watched him walk out the door of our home and knew there was a very good chance others would be cruel to him,” Shaniqua Hawkins said.
Still, she added, the family had no idea the teen was contemplating taking his own life.
“Shaq was always so positive despite being tormented by bullies. We believed him to be a very happy boy,” she said.
Deputies found the student’s body in the school’s bathroom after an hours-long search. The family said they believed Shaq chose to kill himself at school to send a message to the bullies.
Following Hawkins’ death, hundreds gathered to remember him at a vigil.
Seminole County Schools Superintendent Dr. Walt Griffin released a statement saying additional counselors and other supports were being provided for the family, students and staff. He also addressed the family’s allegations that the school was approached about the bullying.
“This is a very tragic circumstance and our hearts and prayers remain with the family during this difficult time,” Griffin stated. “We are aware the family held a press conference…and allegations of bullying were discussed. The School Board has a comprehensive bullying policy that is fully enforced in all of our schools.”
“We must remind everyone that this is an ongoing law enforcement investigation and Seminole County Public Schools has cooperated fully from the beginning as the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office works diligently to gather the facts surrounding this tragedy,” he added.
Bullying has become a leading social issue that has even been addressed by the White House. In March 2010, the Obama administration held the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention at which various stakeholders discussed ways to make schools safer.
Commenting on the seriousness of the problem, President Obama remarked: “If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. It’s not.”