An elementary schooler took his life after suffering from months of torment from his classmates.
Phillip Spruill Jr. committed suicide last Friday, reports The Inquirer. He was only 11 years old.
Linda Lash-Smith, his grandmother, claims he had been the target of bullies since he transferred to Benjamin B. Comegys Elementary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, last September.
“We knew there were problems and we tried to keep encouraging him,” Lash-Smith said. “We just did not realize how deep he was hurting."
The young boy had to shoulder a heavy burden.
Last week, 11 year old Phillip Spruill, Jr. took his own life after being bullied for MONTHS at Benjamin B. Comegys Elementary in Philadelphia. Phillip was also bullied for defending his brother who has been bullied & met with homophobic slurs.— Bella Goth (@HoodSocialism) April 14, 2019
Another Black child is gone. pic.twitter.com/WOc1KVW5EG
Spruill suffered from several mental disorders including depression, anxiety and ADHD. Bullies often picked on him for his weight.
“He was very sensitive," Lash-Smith said. "Even though he would try to act like nothing anyone said bothered him, it would hurt him to his core. But he didn’t show it. He didn’t want to show it outwardly and he didn’t want to worry mom and dad mostly with a lot of his pain, mostly because he knows mom and dad [were] fiercely protective of him and he didn’t want them being burdened.”
He also protected his 7-year-old little brother, who faced homophobic insults from his peers.
#ICYMI - Linda Lash-Smith, Grandmother of Phillip Spruill Jr. on what drove her grandson to commit suicide on the @claycane show #ClayCaneShow - #ClayNation - @RepKenyatta— SiriusXM Urban View (@SXMUrbanView) April 12, 2019
“They were also making fun of his next youngest brother who was six, in two weeks he’ll be seven, calling him gay because he likes to dance and twirl around,” Lash-Smith told Clay Cane, host of Sirius XM’s The Clay Cane Show. “They would make hurtful comments on the school bus and school saying, ‘Here comes fatty and f****t.'”
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The 7-year-old was the first person to discover Spruill’s body, and he has been struggling since his brother’s death.
“My protector is gone,” the little one said, according to his grandmother.
Lash-Smith said Spruill tried to get help from school administrators, but their complaints were ignored. On the day he died, Spruill approached a counselor, but she was preoccupied. He left because he did not want to miss the bus and leave his brother to deal with the bullies alone.
“The school didn’t do anything to stop it. They just considered him a troublemaker, and [his mom] was just a pain-in-the-butt parent. They had already been labeled,” Lash-Smith told Philly Gay News. “He wasn’t given the support or resources that he should have had. We should be planning for spring and summer, not his homegoing services.”
School district spokesperson Lee Whack said there were “no founded instances of this child being bullied.”
“We take claims of bullying very seriously. We look into it. We work to be preventative — specifically to our LGBTQ youth,” Whack said in a statement. “Above all of that, the District and the Comegys school community are deeply saddened by the tragedy and we never want to see something like this happen. Young people have challenges and it’s up to us to do our very best to support them.”
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta has secured several donors to help pay for the family’s burial expenses. He is also working on a law to change how the school system deals with at-risk students.
"This is heartbreaking. I’ve struggled to move past the pain of this tragedy but have been grounded by the strength of the Spruill family,” he told Philly Gay News. “We need to address this crisis of suicide and bullying, so that little Phil’s life will not have been in vain.”
Lash-Smith hopes this will lead to accountability.
"What we want from this is legislature to make the whole school staff accountable. They should be trained to look for children who are showing signs of depression so they can be sent to get support and help,” she said. “And there should be zero tolerance for bullying. It shouldn't be swept under the rug or moved aside. It’s important. Just like drugs in school are important, guns in schools is important, well so is bullying.”
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