A coroner's inquest into the December suicide of a Missouri high school student has found that the 17-year-old boy's death was caused by involuntary manslaughter, the result of harassment at work and at school.
The Columbia Tribune reports that the jury in Howard County, Mo., placed principal blame on the teen’s former manager at Dairy Queen in Fayette, Mo., but also said Glasgow High School in Glasgow, Mo., was negligent in preventing the bullying that led to the suicide.
Kenneth Suttner, a junior at Glasgow High, fatally shot himself on Dec. 21 outside his family’s home in Howard County. Following the suicide, County Coroner Frank Flaspohler convened an inquest to examine the role bullying played in the death.
The six-person panel found that Suttner's manager at Dairy Queen, Harley K. Branham, 21, was the principal reason Suttner killed himself. Witnesses testified that Branham constantly ridiculed Suttner at work. Former coworkers said that Branham made Suttner do tasks designed to humiliate him and that he had said she makes him want to kill himself. As a result of the inquest, Branham has been charged with second-degree involuntary manslaughter.
The jury also found that bullying at Glasgow High also played a role in Suttner's suicide. Witnesses at the inquest described widespread bullying at the school and said administrators were reluctant to address the problem.
District officials strongly disputed the jury's finding that administrators and teachers were negligent in combating bullying. In a statement posted of the Glasgow district's web site, the district noted that the jury found that staff members followed the district's policies and procedures for addressing bullying in school.
"In essence, the jury's decision requires district staff to guarantee that no student ever be bullied," the district says. "It is seemingly not enough for the district to adopt policies and procedures to prevent bullying; not enough to train staff and students on bullying prevention; the district must prevent every instance of one student bullying another. With due respect to the inquest jury, no school district can satisfy this standard."
Lexie Graves, a fellow student who said Suttner was her best friend, testified that she had seen students pick on Suttner in virtually every area of the school building. The boy was harassed about his weight, a speech impediment, the way he walked and how he acted, she said.
“A lot of people, kids, made fun of the way — basically everything about him,” Graves said.
She reported the bullying only once, she said, because usually nothing would happen when it was reported.
But the district maintains that it could not have acted to prevent incidents of bullying that it did not know about.
"The evidence that the deceased student was bullied was for the most part hearsay," the district says.