WA Community Holds Vigil For Gay Teen Who Committed Suicide

It’s getting to the point where we should probably have a template for these stories: Another young teen has taken his life after enduring harassment and physical attacks because of his sexual orientation. This time the victim was Rafael Morelos of Cashmere, WA, who took his own life on January 31.

As Fox 13 in Seattle reports, on Friday some 100 community members gathered at a memorial for  Morelos, who was a target at Cashmere Middle School for being gay.

“They would bully him and cuss him out, and just hated on him all the time,” said friend Jessica Fisk. “They would follow him and try to beat him up and try to hurt him.”

But his mother said she had no idea what he was going through.

“He never told me nothing,” said his mother, Malinda. “He did not tell me he was being bullied. He had a dark side inside him that he never told me his feelings anymore. I thought it was just him being a teenager, and I just didn’t know why.”

Other students claim Morelos was also shoved and punched in the face during gym class. But the harassment didn’t stop at the school door: Students created a fake Facebook account to insult Morelos online.

In the wake of other newsworthy suicides last year—and with more than 15,000 students suspended in Washington State for bullying from 2008-2009—state officials had already ordered schools to strengthen anti-bullying policies, both in school and on the Internet. “The new law makes each school district designate someone to be the primary contact in cases of bullying or harassment,” writes Fox’s Jeff Van Sant.

Clearly those measures were either not enacted yet or were ineffective.

Rob Cline, principal at Cashmere Middle School, told the Wenatchee World that there was no ongoing effort to root out who was harassing Morelos.

He said that Rafael had, earlier in the school year, reported one incidence of being bullied but “we took care of that. We investigated and took appropriate action.”

Cline declined to say what action the district took, or when during the school year Rafael complained to the school about being bullied. “Student discipline is not something I am at liberty to share,” Cline said.

The Chelan County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case and determined that it was a suicide and there was no foul play involved. “You’re the first one who ever indicated to me that he had been bullied,” said Sheriff Brian Burnett in a phone interview Saturday.

It’s impossible to know exactly what leads someone to commit suicide, and we’re hesitant to point fingers without having all the details. But by several accounts here we have a parent who didn’t know what was bothering her child and a school that seemed indifferent at best.

Can that be anything but a recipe for disaster?