Nicholas Kelo Jr. made the switch from the football team to the school band because he wanted to play the tenor saxophone. For some reason unbeknownst to us, his classmates deduced that this made him gay. Cue the relentless anti-gay bullying that led up the the 13-year-old killing himself with the family gun.
His parents say he wasn’t the type of boy to end his own life, but admit that the bullying was a daily nightmare for their child, and had “spiraled out of control.” Four other students between 13 and 15 have also committed suicide within the past three and a half years in the town.
Rittman Police Department Sgt. Roger Pauley, who is investigating Nick’s death as a probable suicide, said people need to think before they bully. The effects, he noted, can be long-lasting — especially if it ends tragically. Gary Guenther, chief investigator for the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office, said because his office is waiting for additional information from the Rittman Police Department, it will be at least a couple of weeks until there is an official cause of death.
Unlike years ago when a child was bullied on the playground but could go home to find peace, today’s cell phones, social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, and text messaging can result in harassment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Though sometimes those technologies can be a way to spread rumors, they can also serve as a way to offer condolences to bereaved families.
Shortly after Nick’s death, someone created a special page on Facebook in the boy’s honor. Within hours, dozens of people had viewed the site. Some who commented on the page spoke about bullying — particularly at the high school, which educates about 400 students in grades eight through 12.
”I do not know who created this page, but your support is amazing,” Jacqueline Kelo wrote on the page. ”I wish he had known he had so many people at school who cared about him . . . What happened was a tragic accident in a moment of rage and confusion as can only be experienced by a teenage boy.
”Yes, there is a huge problem in the school. But everyone of us must work together to protect the children we have for the future.”
When told about the complaints expressed by the Kelos and others about the issue, Rittman High School Principal Brett Lanz quickly noted that he was saddened by Nick’s death.
”I feel like . . .everything [bullying issues and other concerns] that is brought to my attention I deal with or respond in some way,” Lanz said. ”As a school administrator . . .you ask the same questions that everybody else asks — Are we doing enough? How more do we support students? The school becomes a filter for a lot of things these days.”
The Kelos praised Superintendent Jon Ritchie for stepping up following their son’s death.
”I honestly don’t think he knew that it was this bad,” Jacqueline Kelo said.
This sucks. This completely and totally, unimaginably sucks. Our schools are failing kids, both gay and straight. Our communities are failing them. Our families are. Why is this still happening? Out thoughts and regards go out to the Kelo family.
And if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, STOP. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call will be routed to the nearest crisis center to you. The entire world wants you to grow into the amazing person you are on your way to becoming. Let us help you make it there.