Metro Nashville Police are investigating the apparent suicide of a Black seventh-grade student, WZTV reports.
Tarhiya Sledge, a student at John F. Kennedy Middle School, was 12 years old when she died in her home.
Her family told the local television station that she had previously tried to take her life and called her bullies “cruel.” Sledge’s stepfather, Mario Glover, said her cries for help went unanswered by the school.
“From the way she lived, it seemed like she wanted everybody happy, everybody,” Glover said. “Like I said, she played with any kid, no matter the age, no matter the size. Just be happy. Love one another.”
“She just wanted to be accepted by everyone. The ones who hurt her the most was the main ones she was calling friends,” he added.
Jodi Ukrakpor, who has a child at the middle school, told WZTV that Sledge was the victim of bullying. Ukrakpor said the bullying was so bad at one point that Sledge's mom pulled her out of school.
She said a group of students had a reputation for bullying different children.
“They taunted her, would physically hit her,” Ukrakpor said, adding that the administration didn’t help.
When WZTV reached out to the school system about the allegations, spokesman Sean Braisted said officials have launched an internal investigation to review the circumstances around the 12-year-old's death.
Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) said they have confirmed two bullying incidents at the school this year, although there have been 12 allegations documented in total.
“We were saddened to learn of the death of a student within the MNPS family. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the student. Support teams were deployed to schools affected to help students and faculty impacted by this tragic death,” Braisted said in a statement.
Fran Bush, a member of the Metro School Board for District 8, told WZTV that she hopes the district finds out more details surrounding Sledge's death.
“The loss of the life of a beautiful child is devastating to our community,” Bush said. “I'm praying for Tarhiya's family and friends. My expectation is that the district will work with the school to fully examine the circumstances leading up to her death.”
WSMV reports that a vigil for Sledge was held outside of JFK Middle School on Tuesday. Community members referenced the alleged bullying incidents at the school.
At the vigil, Sledge’s great aunt, who was not named, gave a speech.
“I don't care if I have to boycott this school; you're going to hear my voice,” she told the crowd. “Hold your babies and tell them you love them. I tell my kids the first time you are bullied will be the last time you're bullied. Words have power.”
The official cause of death will be released by medical examiners once an autopsy is complete.
Recent studies show an increasing number of suicides among Black children in the last three decades, Blavity reports.
Suicide rates among Black girls ages 13-19 doubled from 2001 to 2017, while increasing by 60% for Black boys in the same age group over the same period, NBC News reported.