Lawrence King was one too many. But as we know, harassment and violence toward gay youth (or children branded as “gay” by classmates) are not a series of isolated incidents. In 2007, 17-year-old Eric Mohat killed himself after endless gay-hate taunting. Now Mohat’s parents are identifying those who they see responsible: the school’s administrators and teachers. And they’re suing.
But they’re not in it for the money. At least, they’re not asking for any; the lawsuit they filed late last month does not ask for any compensation, only that Mentor High School in Ohio acknowledge Mohat’s death as a “bullicide.” (Named in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, are administrators Jacqueline A. Hoynes and Joseph Spiccia, and math teacher Thomas M. Horvath.)
Why so significant? Because Mohat wasn’t the only one. Three other students in Mohat’s class killed themselves in 2007. The three kids, two boys and a girl, were described as “extremely bright,” but they were branded “nerds” by classmates, and viciously harassed before they took their own lives. (Another male student wrote a suicide note two weeks after Mohat’s death; he did not kill himself.)
Eric Mohat — whose friends knew him as “Twiggy” for his lean, 6-foot-1-inch, 112-pound physique — had a dry wit and musical talent, according to his mother, Jan Mohat. He had played piano for 13 years, enjoyed video games, anime, Harry Potter books and “cracking puzzles.”
“By all indications he was a very nice, typical high school kid, kind of quiet and shy, but outgoing with his little group of friends,” said the family’s lawyer Ken Myers. “He seemed to have a quirky sense of humor and was also very sensitive.”
The bullying “accumulated over time,” Myers told ABCNews.com. “In math class, two or three picked on him constantly and mercilessly. Most of it was verbal, but they did some things like sitting behind him and flicking him in the ear, sticking stuff in his hoodie and putting eraser shavings on his head. Out of class they would shove him in lockers.”
Much of the taunting was related to him being considered gay, though Eric Mohat’s parents said the teen “didn’t identify himself that way,” Myers said.
“He may have looked effeminate, was in theater and would wear bright clothes,” said Myers. “He was a skinny kid, and so the kids found something that bothered him and went for that.”
The parents say Eric Mohat routinely ignored the teasing but complained to the teacher, who responded by moving the bullies’ desks.
“The next day, they were back and it made it worse,” said Myers. “They may have thought he was a snitch and the parents didn’t know how bad it was.”
But March 29, 2007, one bully pushed Eric Mohat too far with a remark about killing himself, the lawsuit alleges. The teen took a legally registered gun from his father’s bureau drawer, locked himself in his room and shot himself in the head.
At the time, Eric Mohat’s older sister, Erin, was on a treadmill exercising. His after-school employer called their home to find out why he had not shown up at work.
Erin Mohat found her brother’s body in his bedroom and called 911. Now 21, his sister is studying to be a school psychologist, something Jan Mohat said is now “a calling.”
“My sister is my hero,” Eric Mohat had written on his MySpace page, though she was too late to save him.
Later authorities found a story Eric Mohat had begun to write about bullying. Days before, he had told his mother about the nonstop taunts in both class and in the hallways of the high school.
The family said school officials had been resistant to cooperate in the investigation and had insisted bullying was not a problem; the bullies never showed remorse.
“This is the first we heard that a suit was filed,” said Justin Maynor, communications director for the Mentor Public School District. “We had a hunch it was coming.”
Meanwhile, Mentor Public School District communications director Justin Maynor has the audacity to say, “Generally, there is a very low incidence of violence at the school. Considering its population, it’s a relatively serene place.” And the “several” student suicides in the “last couple of years”? Maynor insists they have no connection to bullying. “We don’t believe it’s a problem.”