Skip to main content

A day after a class on bullying, a suicide

By Chuck Johnston and Tom Watkins, CNN
updated 4:07 PM EDT, Mon October 21, 2013
  • Jordan Lewis, 15, kills himself with a shotgun blast to the chest
  • He saw a school presentation about bullying the day before
  • "We view it as a potential stressor," doctor says about bullying
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline -- 800.273.TALK.

(CNN) -- A day after his 15-year-old son, Jordan, committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest, Brad Lewis is looking for answers.

"The suicide note he left stated that he was tired of life ... and that he was doing this because he was being bullied at school," Lewis said in a seven-minute video posted to his Facebook account on Thursday, hours after the death.

Lewis said he learned Thursday that Carterville High School in Carterville, Illinois, had shown the sophomore class a video on Wednesday about bullying. "And, at the end of the video, that the kid that was being bullied went home and committed suicide," he said.

Carterville Schools Superintendent Robert Prusator acknowledged that Jordan Lewis participated in a multimedia presentation about alcohol and drug abuse and bullying, but he said no reports had been made to the school's staff or administrators about Jordan being bullied.

Mom of dead Florida teen sends birthday message, promises to fight bullying

"Our priority right now is counseling for our students and staff," he said in a telephone interview. "The kids are trying to get through his passing."

The elder Lewis, who works for the Illinois Department of Corrections, did not respond to interview requests. But he said in the video that he learned Thursday, as he was traveling to identify the body, that his son had told a schoolmate after the presentation on Wednesday about the bullying and about his plans to kill himself.

The girl, whom he did not identify, told her grandmother, who called police, he said. On Wednesday night, they "did a wellness check" and were supposed to have returned Thursday, he said he was told. "I never heard nothing about it until today," he said.

Tips for parents

1. Be a good example -- kids often learn bullying behavior from their parents.

2. Teach your child what it means to be a good friend.

3. Make your home a safe haven for kids after school.

4. Use teachable moments on TV to show the power of bystanders.

5. Listen. Don't be in denial about incidents that are brought to your attention.

Parents, beware of bullying on sites you've never seen

Williamson County Sheriff's Office Capt. Brian Thomas said police were not called to the house until Thursday, when they were contacted by the boy's mother, who had called her son earlier from her job to wake him up but got no response. She found him dead, with a shotgun wound to the chest.

The couple is separated. The boy's father lives in suburban St. Louis, about 100 miles northwest of Carterville.

Thomas said the department was investigating allegations of bullying made Thursday by the boy's relatives, but had received no such complaints beforehand.

"This bullying has to stop," the father said in his video. "People have to stop treating other people the way they do, because some people just don't have the strength to overcome the humiliation, the continuation of being picked on constantly, every day, to the point that they have no outs."

He pleaded with viewers to contact him with the names of the bulliers. "I want to find out who those kids were who bullied my son and forced him into taking his life," he said. "The only way for it to stop is to let people know what is going on so that the school can get more involved and that no other lives has to be taken."

Are we too quick to cry 'bully'?

He blamed the school video for having presented suicide as an easy out. "Just go home and take your life," he said, instead of offering counseling.

A suicide expert said that, while bullying is common, it rarely leads to suicide. "We view it as a real potential stressor for people who are already vulnerable," said Dr. Christine Moutier, medical director at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in a telephone interview. "The reality is that there are other factors in there that create that level of distress and hopelessness and desperation."

Asked whether the video may have contributed to the boy's suicide, she said it was impossible to say without having seen it.

Join us October 29 for a Google Hangout on bullying

Suicide "contagion" may occur in the wake of a story that presents killing oneself as acceptable, she said.

But, she added, "We need to, as a society, not just the press, need to handle suicides in a way that's knowledgeable, that provides hope and real resources for people who are struggling, and not just a story that presents suicide as the one and only outcome."

If you are considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline -- 800.273.TALK (8255).

Opinion: Should parents be criminally liable for kids' cyberbullying?

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:25 AM EDT, Thu October 24, 2013
At the end of first grade, 7-year-old Cameron Hale, an easy-going, cheerful little boy from a tiny rural town in western Washington, suddenly didn't want to go to school anymore.
updated 10:49 AM EDT, Sun October 20, 2013
Two girls in Florida, 14 and 12, have been arrested and charged with aggravated stalking -- cyberbullying.
With the growth of the Internet, bullying is now front and center online (cyberbullying), and affects users of all ages.
updated 8:14 PM EDT, Sun October 12, 2014
"Why aren't you dead?"
updated 9:47 AM EDT, Tue October 8, 2013
In the last few months, the word rippled through news reports of tragic teen suicides in Connecticut, New York, Nova Scotia and Britain.
updated 11:45 AM EDT, Thu September 19, 2013
For many families, the school year just started, but for Karen Suffern, it's not too early to start planning for Christmas.
updated 11:28 AM EDT, Thu September 5, 2013
Can cruel words really kill?
updated 2:26 PM EST, Thu February 28, 2013
A red-faced Gordon Ramsay gets nose-to-nose with an older man and shouts, "Wake up!" He calls another chef's food "rotten." To us, it's entertainment.
updated 4:12 PM EST, Fri March 8, 2013
Some adults may still think bullying is just a youthful rite of passage, but it seems worse than in previous generations for many parents, educators and kids.
updated 11:55 AM EST, Tue February 26, 2013
Bullies can be almost anyone, at any time. And the most likely targets of bullies? The bullies themselves.
Kirk Smalley and his wife, Laura, endured every parent's worst nightmare -- burying their child. Their 11-year-old son, Ty, was a victim of bullying.
updated 2:12 PM EDT, Mon April 15, 2013
Brandon Turley didn't have friends in sixth grade. He would often eat alone at lunch, having recently switched to his school without knowing anyone.
These snapshots illustrate what children and parents profiled in Lee Hirsch's eye-opening documentary have overcome.
updated 9:16 AM EST, Sun March 3, 2013
Lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure that our schools are safe, which is why I have made addressing the problem of bullying a priority in the United States Senate.
The bullying Jackie Libby's son, Alex, faced every day was so severe that she worried the emotional toll would drive him to suicide.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Wed October 31, 2012
Many schools are implementing programs that teach empathy and respect for others. But not everyone agrees with this approach to managing bullying.
The answer to that question depends on how you look at it, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.
updated 10:18 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
Amanda Todd, a Canadian teen whose suicide provoked a flood of sympathetic outrage, endured one torment after another in the years leading up to her death.