"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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• 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