Michael Martin, an eighth-grade student at Everett High School, died Jan. 25 at a hospital two days after he attempted suicide at his home in Lansing, the Lansing State Journal reported.
His mother, Joanna Wohlfert, said the teen was teased about his weight and braces on the school bus over a period of several months prior to his death. She told the paper her son often skipped classes to avoid bullies and his grades deteriorated.
Emails that Wohlfert provided to the paper reportedly show that she reached out to the Lansing School District as early as last November, asking for assistance.
She says her pleas for help were ignored.
‘Any Help I Can Get’
“I AM ASKING FOR ANY HELP I CAN GET,” she wrote an all caps request to a school counselor in a Jan. 8 email, according to the report.
School policy outlined in the district’s student handbook says that excessive absences, even when verified by a parent or guardian, “will be investigated by school district personnel.”
The teen’s mother, however, said that her son’s absences were not investigated.
“No one said, ‘Hey, what’s going on with this kid? You haven’t been calling him into school and he hasn’t been here,’” Wohlfert said. “Nothing.”
She said the only notifications she received from the school district were automated phone calls indicating the classes that her son had missed on any given day.
“I know that some schools are overwhelmed with kids, but if you have a parent that’s reaching out to you, and trying to get help for their child, why wouldn’t you reach back?” Wohlfert told the paper. “Why wouldn’t you do something? He was going through a dark time and nobody cared. Nobody paid attention to him.”
Michael Martin, Lansing, Michigan 13 year old Everett High School eight grader commits suicide after relentless bullying despite the boy’s mother- Joanna Wohlfert pleading for the school to intercede. https://t.co/Q9a6VwG0Nm
— Scallywagandvagabond (@ScallywagNYC) February 5, 2019
‘Comprehensive and On-going Investigation’
Lansing School District spokesman Bob Kolt told the paper on Friday that the school’s response to the bullying reports was appropriate. He said he wouldn’t comment any further because of the ongoing investigation into the boy’s death.
School officials also released a statement Monday regarding the investigation.
“The Lansing School District is engaged in a comprehensive and on-going investigation and is working closely with the Lansing Police Department,” the district said.
“It is the policy and practice of the district to not comment or share any details pertaining to the investigation while it is on-going.”
The teen’s mother told the paper that she also reached out to the bus company that services the district, Dean Transportation. She said the company did not investigate the alleged bullying. The school bus company released a statement expressing condolences to the family and said it is in communication with the school district.
In a Jan. 8 email to the school counselor, Jennifer West Wohlfert wrote, “I have reached out to the bus garage and the assistant principal trying to get some help for my son. He went from going to school to not going at all. He says there is some bullying on the bus.”
West emailed a reply, saying she had spoken with Michael “just before break,” after a teacher sent him to her office.
“Despite my efforts to talk with him, offer him support, etc., he absolutely refused to speak with me or even acknowledge I was speaking to him,” West wrote.
Lansing police are investigating bullying related to the teen’s death.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Vital Signs: Trends in State Suicide Rates on June 8, 2018, revealing that suicide rates have increased by 30 percent since 1999. However, the report points out that there were a variety of factors other than mental health conditions that lead to suicide.
“Suicide rates increased significantly across most states during 1999–2016. Various circumstances contributed to suicides among persons with and without known mental health conditions,” the report stated.
If you or someone you know is showing signs that they might be suicidal, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 800-273-TALK. You can also text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.