Students at a Palmdale middle school are struggling to make sense of the apparent suicide of a 13-year-old classmate, who is believed to have shot himself with his father's gun.
Grief counselors were sent to Hillview Middle School on Tuesday to help the students.
Nigel Hardy's father alerted authorities Monday when he found a suicide note in his son's room and discovered his gun was missing, Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said.
A gun was found near his body, which was discovered at a restaurant 20 miles outside town, a Kern County sheriff's official said.
Authorities said the boy was despondent over a recent suspension from Hillview Middle School. Principal Robert Garza could not comment Tuesday specifically on any disciplinary actions taken against Nigel, but said the school had handled the situation appropriately.
He described Nigel as a "great kid" with a "million-dollar smile."
One of Nigel's best friends, though, said the teenager was not always as sunny as he seemed, and felt stung by the harassment he endured for his participation in a cheerleading group.
"He was a happy kid," said the seventh-grader who described himself as Nigel's best friend. "But they used to make fun of him."
The boy was sometimes bullied, cursed and mocked for his participation in an extracurricular cheerleading club, AV Dynasty All-Stars, the friend said.
"I would tell him, 'I got your back, they can't say those things just because you're a cheerleader,'" the boy said. "I'd try to defend him."
Another boy who cheered with Nigel on AV Dynasty said the teenager was "gutsy" and always willing to try new things.
"He had a lot of potential to be great," the fellow cheerleader said. "I wish I would have been able to talk to him before this. I might have been able to change his mind."
Nigel's friend said he was with him Friday when he punched another student who harassed him for cheerleading. After he was suspended from school, Nigel told his friend that his phone was being taken away.
It was the last time Nigel's friend heard from him.
"Is there anything we could have done better?" Garza asked. "When you lose a child, you have to ask a question like that."
He added: "We can't bring Nigel back, but what we can do is never forget what happened."
Garza said the school is devastated about what happened to the youth, who began attending the school about 12 weeks ago after moving from out of state. Garza said he had a good relationship with the boy and his mother.
"Our hearts are with the parents and family of Nigel Hardy as they deal with this tremendous personal loss," Regina Rossall, Westside Union School District's superintendent, said in a statement.
Rossall also did not elaborate on Nigel's suspension, but said students are suspended after repeated incidents and other disciplinary methods are exhausted.
The school will hold a community meeting next week to discuss the event and examine school and district policy.