PERKINS — Ty Field was bullied, his family says. Ty, 11, committed suicide. He would have turned 12 this past Wednesday. Ty's parents don't want anyone to forget. They're looking for a bit of good from the greatest tragedy of their lives. They want parents to know bullying happens, even in small towns, and it can have awful consequences. "I'll use whatever resources I can find,” said Ty's dad, Kirk Smalley. "I'm going to keep my son's smile in front of the camera. That grin on his face. Those freckles and those eyes. "We hope that we can keep anybody else from going through what we're going through,” he said. "It's a nightmare. We can't sleep. We can't eat. We don't go a second of any day that this isn't slapping us in the face.”
A happy childTy appeared to be like many boys growing up in rural Oklahoma. Kirk Smalley said he began taking Ty hunting soon after he married the boy's mother, Laura, about five years ago. Ty killed his first deer two years ago and had plans to go antelope hunting this October in in Wyoming. It's a trip Kirk and Laura Smalley still plan on taking. "Laura is going to kill Ty's antelope,” Kirk Smalley said. "We are going to put his antelope on the wall where he bragged to his friends it was going to be.” Ty also liked to play video games and ride his dirt bike on the 40 acres upon which the family's home sits. But what Ty, and the rest of the family, really loved to do was watch the St. Louis Cardinals play baseball. There were trips to Busch Stadium, and Ty could often be seen wearing a jersey with the number of Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina or all-star first baseman Albert Pujols. "We live and breathe Cardinal baseball and deer hunting,” Kirk Smalley said. "He wasn't a depressed kid. His mom and I never saw anything that this was a child contemplating suicide.”
What happened?On May 13 before school, Ty sat in the bleachers, laughed and joked with sixth-grade classmates and friends, Smalley said. Another boy — the same boy, Smalley said, that had been bullying Ty all year — began picking on Ty. Ty pushed his bully back, Smalley said. Ty got suspended. Ty's mother works for the school district. She took her son home and told him to do his chores and homework. Ty knew he was in trouble, Kirk Smalley said. Ty never did his chores. Instead, he walked into his parents' bedroom closet, looked into the large mirror on the wall, held a .22-caliber pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. When Laura Smalley returned home about 2:30 p.m., she found her 11-year-old son lying on the floor dead, wearing his Albert Pujols jersey and with a can of root beer stuck in his front pocket. "He was already cold,” Kirk Smalley said. "He had killed himself pretty early in the day.” Smalley thinks his son acted without thinking about the consequences. "He did it, but we can't make ourselves believe he meant to do it,” Smalley said. "I think he was tired of fighting it. Tired of the bullying.”
Was there bullying?The school district disputes the Smalleys' claim their son was being bullied. "There is no indication that he was bullied at school,” Perkins-Tryon Public Schools Superintendent James Ramsey said. "Documentation doesn't imply that that was a factor.” Ramsey said when any type of unruly incident at the school occurs it is recorded by teachers and administrators. "We look at our information, and that's the paper trail and that's how we keep track,” Ramsey said, adding that regulations prevent him from talking more about Ty's case. "It's just a tragedy,” Ramsey said. "Nobody wants that to happen to anybody's children.” Ty's family said he had been bullied for about two years. In fifth grade the problem was addressed, but a year later it had continued. There was an incident when another child poured chocolate milk over Ty's head and an incident when a child said he was going to rape Ty, Kirk Smalley said. Smalley said Ty had gotten in trouble several times for retaliating. "It's the victim that gets caught because he retaliates,” Smalley said. "We always taught him to stick up for himself.”
Demanding a changeSmalley is not happy with the school's investigation. But, he said he is not interested in suing the school or getting anyone fired. What he wants is mandatory training on how to prevent bullying. Under Oklahoma law, schools are required to have bullying policies. Smalley wants his son's death to be a warning that policies and training requirements need to be more stringent. He is asking politicians, community leaders and anybody else to come forward and help. Ramsey said Perkins-Tryon schools have several bullying prevention programs and before Ty's death most people would have thought they were adequate. "But now this has happened and now they're targeting bullying as the main cause and it's getting much more attention,” he said. Ramsey said he will ask the state Education Department to send someone to evaluate the district's policies.
A gaping holeTy was buried in his Cardinals cap. It's a feeling and a sight Smalley said he never wants anyone to experience. That's why he fighting for lasting change. He wants the bullies out of the schools. When the shock wears off, you would not believe that there could be such a gaping hole in your chest and you can live.” A month after Ty's suicide, Kirk and Laura Smalley still haven't done their son's last load of laundry. "We just can't,” Kirk Smiley said. "His Molina jersey still smells like him.”
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• 33 percent said they had been involved in bullying.
• 14 percent claimed to be a bullying victim.
• 12 percent reported being a bully.
• 7 percent said they had been a victim and a bully.
• Nearly two-thirds of children who were frequently bullied and half of the children who had not been bullied wanted better adult supervision.
Youth suicideOf the 252 child deaths looked at in 2009 by the state Child Death Review Board, 21 were classified as suicide. In the board's 2008 review, there were 9 suicides of 247 child deaths. In Oklahoma, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among youths ages 10 to 24. Only automobile accidents kill more youngsters.
• For a suicide crisis, call the HeartLine hot line at (800) 273-8255. Sources: Oklahoma Health Department, Oklahoma Child Death Review Board, HeartLine