The parents of a 9-year-old Alabama girl say she killed herself after being subjected to bullying.
Maddie Whitsett was found unresponsive by her mother in their Birmingham house on Friday. Paramedics rushed her to an area hospital, where she remained on life support until Monday.
Maddie’s stepfather, Jimmie Williams, told AL.com she had ADHD and had complained about being bullied and called “stupid” and “dumb” by classmates at school. The incidents led to a meeting last year between the principal and the girl’s parents.
The parents thought the bullying stopped. They’ve since learned it didn’t.
“We talked to one of her friends and Maddie had apparently had a bad day [Friday],” he told AL.com. “The friend said Maddie was bullied and she looked sad while she was being bullied. It must have really worn her out that day.”
Maddie had recently started a new medication, which listed suicidal thoughts as a possible side effect. Jimmie Williams said he believes the bullying and medicine contributed to her death.
Birmingham City Schools, Maddie’s district, released a statement in response to her death, saying, “Our school community is deeply saddened by the recent passing of a student. … The death of any young person is a tragic loss that impacts the whole school community, and we send our deepest condolences to the family.”
Eugenia Williams said she is shocked by Maddie’s suicide.
“She was so alive, energetic, funny [and] loved dance,” she told AL.com.
The Mobile County District Attorney’s Office has a BullyBlocker program designed to help parents and students. Its director, Kaila Williams, said it’s important for parents to watch for changes in children.
“Just small things you can look for, [they’re] changing in eating habits, changing the way they usually look, whether they’re more withdrawn or reserved,” Williams told Mobile’s WPMI-TV. “Even teachers can look for those signs because parents know their children and teachers know their students. Whether they’re saying [they’re] losing things all the time or can’t find certain things. They don’t want to go to school or sick all the time.”
Maddie’s distraught parents told AL.com they decided to share their story in hopes it might help others.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.
Bullying prevention: Teach kids how to identify bullying and how to stand up to it safely.