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Father fights back against bullying after son's suicide

BullyingLaw EnforcementAbusive BehaviorCrime, Law and JusticeSuicideChild Abuse

An Illinois dad got the call on Thursday that no parent ever wants to receive.

Brad Lewis' ex-wife was on the phone: Their 15-year-old son had shot himself in the chest.

In the note Jordan Lewis left behind, he laid blame on bullying.

Although stricken with grief, Lewis, 47, found resolve. He took to Facebook that night and posted a series of videos explaining his son's death and the events leading up to it: the alleged bullying, the concern of his son's best friend, the wellness visit by police the night before the suicide, and the 911 call his son made shortly before pulling the trigger. His mission isn't vengeance, he said, but justice — for his son and for victims of bullying from across the country.

"This bullying has to stop. People have to stop treating other people the way they do," Lewis said into a webcam from his Collinsville, Ill., home. "Because some people just don't have the strength to overcome the humiliation, the continuation of being picked on constantly every day to the point that they have no out."

Jordan's death comes as the nation is following several high-profile cases in which children committed suicide after persistent bullying by peers. In September, 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick jumped from a silo at an abandoned cement plant in Lakeland, Fla., after police say she endured repeated taunts by peers in school and on social media.

Jordan, a sophomore at Carterville High School, cheered for the Chicago Bears and played video games. He had always played football — and he played for the Carterville Lions during his freshman year. But he quit after the first day of practice this year, his father said.

Lewis, who lives about a two-hour drive northwest of Cambria, Ill., where his son and ex-wife lived, talked to Jordan about why he left the team.

"You wouldn't understand, Dad," Jordan said. "I'm being picked on at school."

At the time, Lewis told his son how he himself had once been the target of bullies for having glasses and red hair. He then told his son to report bullies to the principal or his teachers.

In 2008, Yale University researchers compiled studies into the effects of bullying and found that children who were subjected to bullying were between two and nine times more likely to commit suicide.

Jordan, according to his father, was pushed into lockers and hit at least once in the head by a football teammate.

Lewis said that on Wednesday — the day before his son's death — his son watched an anti-bullying video at school.

"At the end of the video, the kid that was being bullied went home and killed himself," Lewis said, adding that police are investigating how Jordan, who lived with his mother, got ahold of a gun.

Jordan had, however, texted a friend that he was considering hurting himself. The friend, alarmed, told her grandmother — who tried contacting Jordan's parents but eventually called police, who made a wellness visit Wednesday night, Lewis said.

The next morning, after his mother left for work, Jordan called 911 and pointed the gun at his heart.

Lewis worries that his son felt hopeless and lost, and that the video at school may have swayed him to send a message. Thursday was Spirit Day — a national effort to raise awareness about bullying — and October is National Bullying Prevention Month.

"My son knows me well enough, that if he couldn't get anything accomplished, I could take on what he wanted stopped," Lewis said.

In the wake of Jordan's death, school administrators have told Lewis that they didn't receive any reports about poor treatment directed at Jordan. Calls to Carterville High School and the Carterville School District were not immediately returned.

His son's death was the impetus, but Lewis said he has become frustrated by the steady reports of teens ending their lives because of mounting torment by bullies.

At the state corrections facility where he works, Lewis said co-workers last week were talking about how callous one teen's remarks were in the aftermath of Rebecca Ann Sedwick's suicide.

Last week, two girls who are accused of bullying Rebecca were charged with felony aggravated harassment. Investigators say one of them posted on Facebook that she knew she bullied Rebecca but didn't care.

Vivian Vosburg, the stepmother of one of the teens charged in the Florida case, was arrested Friday in an unrelated case and charged with two counts of child abuse and four counts of child neglect. The incident that led to charges was captured in a video clip posted online by one of the children under her care. On Saturday, Vosburg, 30, appeared in court, where a judge set bail at $300,000.

To Lewis, the links between Rebecca and his son are unavoidable. "It was the same situation," he said.

So he turned to Facebook, where his anti-bullying video had more than 2,400 shares as of Saturday.

Many of those sharing the video expressed condolences for Jordan's death, but even more are using the video as a vehicle to discuss how bullying has personally affected them.

"I was bullied because of my maidan name," wrote Rhonda Jo Hogg-Mabrey, "until I couldn't take it anymore and started fighting back and defending the other kids that couldn't defend themselves."

"I know how this feels," wrote Annamarie Sites, before criticizing teachers who claim ignorance to the bullying that they observe in the classroom.

And Michelle Smith Goolsby wrote that as a high school friend of Lewis, she was particularly stunned by his son's suicide — and called on parents to talk candidly with their children about bullying and suicide.

"Sometimes, just because a person looks happy, you need to look past their smile and see how much pain they may be in," she wrote.

The Williamson County Sheriff's Office says it is looking into Jordan's death, according to a statement released to the Los Angeles Times. Allegations that Jordan was bullied are part of the ongoing investigation, the statement says.

Services for Jordan will be held Sunday in Marion. Afterward, he'll be buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery, near his grandfather.

In the weeks going forward, Lewis said he would work to stop bullying, somehow.

"I just want this to stop," he said. "I don't want any other kid to feel that they can't reach out to anyone."

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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BullyingLaw EnforcementAbusive BehaviorCrime, Law and JusticeSuicideChild Abuse
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