Sunday, April 15, 2012

They Wore Blue: Grace McComas, 15-years-old, Death by Suicide

Last week, while we here in Maryland, and around the world, were mourning the suicide of Kenny Wolf, there was yet another event here.  Fifteen-year-old Grace McComas, of Glenelg High School, ended her young life because of cyberbullying two days following Kenny.  Both were laid to rest within moments of each other Saturday, April 14th.

Specific details of the cyberbullying were not reported by The Baltimore Sun because of an ongoing police investigation.

What is apparent was that blue was Grace's favorite color.  Her friends started a cyber campaign, #blue4grace, which quickly went viral and attracted the attention of such notables as Lauren Alaina, the 2011 "American Idol" runner-up and Baltimore Ravens' running back, Ray Rice.  Mourners were asked to wear blue for the visitation, but it didn't stop there.  People as far away as Ireland and the Czech Republican were participating in the event.  The message is getting out:  this has to end.  And, to be sure, there ARE many people doing a lot of great things in an effort to end the bullying that's claiming far too many teens' lives.  One teen suicide because of bullying is one too many.  I've had 2 here in my own backyard within the past 10 days.  Enough.

Footballer Ray Rice has become proactive in the campaign against bullying.  He's hosting an anti-bullying event in Howard County, where Grace was from.  I'm in the process of getting more information about that right now.  I've messaged Ray via his personally-run facebook page.  And, as the information becomes available to me, it will be passed along via the blog and on the facebook blog page.

It's been said in conversations I've had with some people that today's young people should have thicker skin and just understand that bullying is a part of growing up.  When I hear that, I seeth as I listen to their opinion.  But, listen, I do.  See, on the one hand, I do understand where they think they're coming from with this logic.  Bullying has been around for as long as I can remember and, I'm sure, well before that.  My own dealings with the bullying and violence is well-documented here.  And, speaking from a personal standpoint, suicide wasn't even a word in my vocabulary when I was a teen.  I coped.  I moved on.  But, as I've been figuring out over the past 10 years or so, I didn't really "cope".  The subconscious scars were very slow to heal.  And, that's because I didn't even realize they were there until, well, 10 years ago or so.  So, that said, it isn't just a matter of today's young people "getting over it".  It just needs to end.  Period.  Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer who advises Facebook and MTV on online safety, had this to say about it:
"I don't want the kids to be more resilient". "I want the kids who are doing it to stop. I want friends of the kids being bullied to stand up and say, 'I am with you.' The popular kids, the smart kids, the big kids need to stand up and say, 'Stop.'"
That's the correct answer.  Damned needing tougher skin!!  They shouldn't have to be dealing with it at all.

And, of course, there have been naysayers who believe this is all much ado about nothing.  To them, I say "think again".  This is a real-life, real-time problem, and it's costing lives.
In the most recent report, released March 31, the Maryland State Department of Education cited nearly 4,700 incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation in the 2010-2011 school year, up from about 3,800 in 2009-2010 and 2,100 in 2008-2009.(The Baltimore Sun)
What that statistic clearly shows that bullying has increased in each of the past three school years in Maryland, alone!  Understanding that that's only from the cases that are reported really puts it all in perspective.  We're in the midst of a crisis that's causing teens to end their own lives.  And, even in the cases where they aren't committing suicide, sometimes the psychological scars they're left with can last a lifetime.

A lot is being done, now, and by many people, to address the issue.  However, a lot more needs to be done, and by many more people.  And, we start by a.) re-educating the adults; and, b.) making sure our lawmakers and school officials understand that this issue needs to be taken with the same gravity of, say, an outbreak of a deadly viral infection that's hitting teens around the country and around the world.  How quickly would "they" find a cure if that were the issue instead of bullying?  That same intensity needs to be focused on the issue with bullying.

To the family and friends of Grace McComas, I'm so sorry that you're having to go through this.  My heart and condolences go out to you.  And, to you, Grace, the world will now never know what gifts you had to offer.  Rest in peace.

20 comments:

  1. very well put. you are an amazing writer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree.Never been bullied but its important to stop it.I live in Howard County and my sister goes to Glenelg and she knew Grace.Its sad but shes free now

      Delete
  2. be sure to get in touch with the megan meier foundation if you have not done so already.tina meier has made great strides on cyber bulling.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well folks - I am BI-sexual. I have had my ups - & - downs with depression and have put up with bullying in school. I have no use for the bastards. I have always liked the colour light gray-grey so I am going to buy some new t-shirts and use my new Sharpie stainers on them and add colours to them to celebrate in memory those we have lost because of the bullying. It is too bad we can not reach out and save people before it happens. Sad - so sad. It HAS TO STOP. R.WM.(RON) DUNSTER.

    ReplyDelete
  4. As a former victim of bullying I can say that some of the scars NEVER heal. I am 37 now, my bullying started when I was 5 yrs old. Here it is 32 yrs later & I STILL occasionally have nightmares about some of it. Living in fear is not living @ all.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The way to fix it is to empower the recipient. For example, if child is under 18 receives a message, then the IP address upon request shojld be resolved to the name of the person sending it. Bullys are cowards and the internet is an enabler for them so remove the enabling measures and it will fix it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The problem with people that believe being think skinned is the answer is that they have never lived through repetitive cruel attacks. It is one thing to go to school and have a bad day or even a bad week but it is another thing when it happens month after month year after year.
    Most kids find a group with which they can identify but for questioning gays and children with emotional/neurological disorders this is difficult. They always feel like the outsider looking in.
    I was the victim of bullies but I don't allow myself to remember it but every time I hear about another suicide it stirs up the anger.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Bullying today is on a different level than it was 10 years. It is much more cruel and with the internet, kids can't get away from it. At least 10 or 15 years ago you could go home after school and have a break. But now kids have cellphones and internet, so there is no escape. Also what are doing to help the bullies? A friend of mine made a good point. The bully is also a child, so what is wrong with them or what are they going through which makes them do this? What are parents doing? Are we talking to our kids? Do we acknowledge that they too can have problems? It is disturbing to see how cruel we are becoming as a society and how this is affecting our kids. Bullying isn't a one sided issue. We need to be addressing both sides of the problem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think this response offers a lot of good questions to keep in mind. Especially with the internet, tweeting, texting--it is difficult to get away from the bully. There is no sanctuary.
      Grace was my sweet and loving niece. Our family is shattered but we will join in with the anti-bullying efforts in whatever way we can! The vibrant and loving life she led should not be overshadowed by her death.

      Delete
  8. I am a victim of bullying as a child and still carry those scars. As former middle school and high school teacher, I know how difficult it is stop bully. Now as a mother of a student in the Glenegl HS system who was just diagnosed with autism and struggles socially at school, my greatest fear is that the isolation and bullying that he is experiencing now will only worsen. I struggle as his parent to help him, working with the school to stop the bullying, and teaching him social skills.

    I had just contacted the school in May about working with them to setup a parent support group to teach staff and parents together to help students who struggle socially but believe all children would benefit. I am still waiting on their response. I think this can help educate on how to reform bullies and empower peers and victims. To just let kids figure out how to act socially is like asking them learn math without a teacher.

    I also believe an antibully student club in the schools who's members act as mentors to befriend and empower would go a long way and make the greatest change, possibly dedicated to blue4gracie. It would be something that really empower the students to stand up against and help stop bully.

    I hope these things will offer really changes in the school and will continue to work towards stopping bullying. My heart breaks for the family. I hope that the school and the community will work together to bring really change.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My child, too, was bullied at Glenelg. I am appalled at the lack of response on the part of the school. I have heard, though, that anyone who says anything to Grace's bully will be suspended on the spot. Why weren't her bullies suspended? Seems to me the bully is getting more protection than Grace did. Schindler needs to go.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I couldn't agree with you more. My son graduated several years ago and was a talented athlete and academic scholar. He was bullied by both teachers and students and I had several meeting with counselors and administrative staff. Nothing was ever resolved! Unfortunately, it breaks my heart to see that we are still protecting these bullies. My thoughts and prayers go out to Grace's family and friends.

    ReplyDelete
  11. My son was bullied and physically assulted at Folly Quarter middle before entering Glenelg. He was also bullied in grade school. Because the school system essentially protects bullies, I've told my boys to kick hard and suddenly the next time anyone physically or verbally crosses a sometimes complicated "threshold" of behavior. Am I sounding barbaric? Here's what my best friend, a retired principal from N.C., told me: "Promise your kid that if you get a call from the school that he finally gave the bully (and his ignorant parents) what they deserved, it will be a new day."

    To Graces family, a part of us died when we heard about your daughter. I hope you find peace and solace knowing that your beloved daughter is indeed in a better place. We will not forget Grace McComas.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I am a teacher in an ES in Howard county and I can insure you that at this level we are doing everything in our power to stop bullying as well as help and protect those who are being bullied. While I have only worked at elementary levels I can not speak for middle or high school. As a former Howard county student as well we need to continue this within the elementary schools and extend it with 110% force to middle and high schools. All schools need to stand up and recognize what is happening within.their walls and take responsibility for it as well as actions to stop what it happening. I keep reading article after article about teen suicides and/or bullying And the schools (all over the county) say that they were unaware or it wasn't happening in school. That is extreme denial and people that dont want to feel responsible for not stepping in and helping a child out when they needed it most. We all... as parents, friends, educators, communities, And a world need to stand up against bullying and stop it.
    My mother knew Grace And her Family... we are extremely heart broken to know the pain she had to endure every single day. And to think of what she went through to feel that was her only way out. Grace was a kind, tender hearted, happy soul that will be missed. Although it is too heart breaking to even think about sometimes, my Family and I hope And pray that Grace's Family learn to cope with this tragedy and find comfort in the peace the Grace will find now. Let Grace live on in the hearts of those that loved her, cared for her, and had the pleasure of knowing her.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I am a College student in NC. I went to Glenelg High School 2 years ago. I was bullied throughout my years at Folly Quarter and the early years at Glenelg High. I was physically assaulted on countless occasions in middle school. but once my height sky rocketed it disappeared through the last few years through school. My brother however, had the same problem; if not worse. He was bullied as well, and i think some of it did cause his depression. When i heard about Grace, i was very upset and angry. I do not believe the bully should be protected, for it was their doing in some ways. still, their children. My father always told me he would have my back in any bullying situation. He told me "never hit first" Unfortunately I could never summon the will to hit back. Its something i've never done. I dont dumb down to the bullies level. I had all my friends wear Blue for the event Blue4Grace. I was extremely happy to see that most of my school did wear blue in support. I never got to meet Grace, but i knew her sisters. My condolences go out to the McComas family. So many deaths to my friends have happened this year. When i become a teacher, i would like to enforce strict rules on bullying and agree that an Anti-Bullying club should be established at EVERY school to ensure it will be stopped.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Chris, for this comment and your efforts there in North Carolina. Funny how that works with your growth spurt, huh? Happened to me that way, as well. My bullying came before my growth spurt. After that, nothing at all. As for your brother, who I would assume is still in high school at Glenelg, I hope he's doing well and knows that if the bullying continues and/or gets severe, he needs to talk to someone immediately. From what I've gathered, talking to the school officials there doesn't do any good. Talk to SOMEONE, though.

      Delete
  14. I can't believe I didn't hear about this until today. I, too, find it heart breaking that a child has endure that kind of emotional pain day after day and thinks the only hope is to end her life. The words seem harsh, but I feel as though these bullies are "murdering" our children vs. them taking their own lives. My children are and have been students at River Hill, also in Howard County. The River Hill administration also seems to be in denial about bullying. Yes, we hear about it through news letters, etc. but when it comes down to it - if it effects the schools reputation and/or one of their many coveted athletes, they quickly turn the other way! It infuriates me. I do not believe any child at this age should need "thick" skin - there should be more than enough time as an adult to develop that trait. It breaks my heart to see our teenagers, in what should be the best time of their lives, go through such humiliation and hurt. I agree their should be a "Anti-bullying Club" in every high school in the country and definitely here in Howard County. Our children, in this County, are supposed to be one of the brightest in the Country - let's put that knowledge to use and come up with a plan. I would definitely be happy to participate in such a club.

    To the McComas Family, my heart breaks for you and know that God had a plan for Grace and she is now in a place where happiness reigns - NO BULLYING!!! Love and prayers to you all!

    Howard County Mom

    ReplyDelete
  15. I knew Grace personally, she lived near me, we went to school together since elementary, and we were friends. To hear about everything she had to go through while I was protected from it all was the most painful thing. To not be able to help was torture. And the worst of it all... her bully lived in the house right next to her. Not even in her own backyard could she feel safe. No one day goes by when I don't think of her, and I can only imagine what is going through her wonderful family's mind.

    I love you, Gracie.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I have been bullied since third grade now in high school I am still being bullied. Grace was so beautiful I wish that she could have talked to someone before she tried to end her life if only she had talked to someone they could have told her that it would get better and that she could get through this then she would still be here today! my prayers and thoughts go out to her friends and family may they find peace in God as they continue to grieve and assure them that they will be reunited with Grace in heaven someday.

    ReplyDelete