SUICIDE: Nick Kelo, 13, Dead From Gunshot After Suffering Anti-Gay Bullying For Joining Band

By Max Simon · Monday, March 14, 2011

Nicholas Kelo, a student in Akron, Ohio, shot himself dead on Feb. 23 at the age of 13. His mother suspects Nick may have gone for a gun because he was bullied after classmates began suspecting he was gay before he joined band. UPDATE: See below.

The harassment began when Nick Kelo decided not to continue playing football after moving from middle to high school, the Beacon Journal reports. He took band instead. And that, says his mother Jacqueline, is what started the gossip about her son; his peers thought (wrongly, she says) that he must be gay if her prefers the sax. “After that, it [the bullying] spiraled out of control.”

One such incident allegedly happened on a school bus following a football game, explained the mother of another Rittman teenager who said her son is also a victim of bullying. During the incident, Nick allegedly became the victim of an older student who was ”glicking” — forcibly spitting on him. Jacqueline Kelo knew something was bothering her son when he came home, but the eighth-grader refused to share the details — telling her that he would handle it himself. The parents became aware of it only after their son’s death. Jacqueline Kelo said it didn’t surprise her that her son kept his pain to himself. Nick viewed himself as his mother’s protector. ”He was the man of the house,” the single mother said.

Jacqueline says she went to the school twice since the start of the school year to register complaints about her son being bullied. Other parents report similar stories. But Jacqueline sounds forgiving when it comes to the school’s inadequate response.

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.

To help the school system, which has an anti-bullying program at the elementary level and has added counselors in some buildings, a fund has been established in Nick’s name to help with character education in the district. In addition, Ritchie said an anti-bullying program will be added to the curriculum in sixth through 12th grade. ”We are going to teach them about compassion and empathy and how to be sensitive to other people’s needs,” Ritchie said. ”I think if we reach the time in our schools and in our society where people generally care about other people, the bullying issue could disappear. ‘The people who are kind and respectful and really truly care about their neighbors, their community members, their friends generally try to do what’s right and try to be there for people. ‘We need to teach our young adults and children to care and be more compassionate about their fellow students. If we can create that kind of environment in the Rittman schools and in the Rittman community — I know this much — it will be a much better place to live and raise a family.”

A self-inflicted gunshot, from a gun kept in safe in the Kelo home, ended Nick’s life. What is unclear from the story, however, is whether he removed the gun to take his own life, or whether he was planning to use it in some way to protect himself from bullies Nick was transported to the hospital by helicopter, and nine of his organs were collected for transplant to those in need. Nick, who had a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do and held a red-black belt in kumdo, and was an avid inventor (“a waffle fork to remove hot food from a toaster and an incinerator trash can”), also had a 152 IQ.


UPDATE: Nick’s mother Jacqueline writes Queerty with an impassioned plea to remove our story.

As the mother of Nick, I am asking you to take this story down immediately. You have plagiarized the well written report by Kim in the Akron Beacon Journal, you misinterpreted facts and you have wrongly accused my son of being gay. I am outraged and horrified. As the daughter of a gay mother I know the struggles of the gay community well. I do not appreciate you using my son as a poster child for your cause, there are enough good honest gay people who need your help, my son was not one of them.

My son’s death was a tragic accident the resulted from his frustration of repeated bullying, yes, but it goes back years and is related more to his intellectual gifts and abilities. He was in no way suicidal or depressed. He was too smart for that. He was frustrated and angry and made an impulsive 13 year old error in judgment which led to a tragic accident due to the report from the lab that shows no gun powder residue on his hands. My son was not gay, your story is inaccurate and you are doing a huge disservice to both him, the children in this school who are bullied still today and the gay community.

Please retract this story immediately.

We will not be removing our story, but Jacqueline’s response does give us pause: In our initial reading of the news report, it appeared reporter Kim Hone-McMahan was indicating Nick took his own life because he could not tolerate any more bullying in school:

At the tender age of 13, Nicholas Kelo Jr. knew what it was like to be relentlessly bullied. It may have been what persuaded him to pry open a safe inside his Rittman home and remove the gun that killed him.

Each night when Nick’s mother, Jacqueline, left the University of Akron, where she worked in the political science department, she would call her son and chat on her way home. When she came through the door, he routinely welcomed her with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and carrots. But something was terribly wrong Feb. 23.

”I called at 6:30 and there was no answer,” said the grieving mother, her voice fading. ”And I kept calling. There was no answer.”

When she arrived home, she found Nick near death from a gunshot wound, lying on the living room floor.

”Deep down in our hearts, this was not a child who would have planned to take his life,” said the boy’s father, Nicholas Sr. ”He may have been bullied to the point that he felt like he needed to protect himself.”

Now Jacqueline says that is not the case, and that a lab report showed no gun residue on his hands. Which means the gun went off … accidentally? And was triggered through … a separate device? We’ve emailed her back requesting clarification. But as it stands, her son Nick was bullied in school, at least in part because some classmates believed he is gay. His actual sexuality is a moot point; we all know perceived sexuality can be just as damaging to bullying victims as anything else. We’re so sorry for your loss, Jacqueline, but by no means are we trying to disrespect his memory, nor make him a “poster child” of any “cause,” unless our cause is to make schools safer for every child.

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