Bullying blamed for HSE student suicide

Jamarcus Bell

Kris Kirschner/Eyewitness News

Hamilton County - A teenager who took his own life may have been the target of bullying.

Jamarcus Bell, 14, was a freshman at Hamilton Southeastern High School. He committed suicide Wednesday after his family says he was bullied at school.

While there are many questions surrounding his death, the ceremony is all about celebrating his life. He was the boy who always smiled.

"He had a very effervescent smile. He could be a million miles away you could pick his smile out of anybody's," said Sam Coffee, a dance coach at the school who was also Bell's mentor.

At 14, Jamarcus Bell had already made an impression on friends, family, even people he didn't know.

"He was always happy," said Coffee.

So it is impossible for the community at Hamilton Southeastern High school to understand why the boy who seemed so happy could end his life so tragically.

Sam Coffee coaches the schools "step" squad, a dance troupe that he says Jamarcus was intent on joining. He believes that bullying "had a pretty big impact."

"He would say you guys seem like a family. That's something I want to be part of," Coffee added.

Coffee, a 2008 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School, says he was a target of bullying and believed Bell was one too. But any problems he may have had, Bell kept to himself.

"He would never talk about anything anybody did. He would always talk about step team," said Coffee.

Last Monday, Bell indicated to his mentor he did want to talk. Coffee admits he was too busy at the time, but encouraged his friend to call. Two days later, Bell was gone.

"It's kind of hard to make peace with it. But you know he's in a better place; won't have to deal with it wherever he's going," said Coffee.

Bell's parents also say he was a victim of bullying. They reportedly asked the district for a meeting last week before their son's death, but that meeting did not happen.

It's difficult for many to comprehend how the boy with the big smile who made everyone laugh and friends wherever he went could have felt so alone. If bullying did play a part, many are now looking to the school for answers.

Remembering Jamarcus

Visitation for Bell was held Monday evening at Eastern Star Church in Fishers, followed by funeral services. Some who filed through the visitation line knew Bell. Others, like Norma Johnson, did not.

"And I just wanted the family to know that they were not alone in their pain. My heart is broke for this family, they shouldn't have to bury their child," said Johnson.

Johnson lost her teenage grandson, who had heart problems. She said he had been bullied because of his heart condition.

"My heart is broke. I feel like we let that child down," she said.

Friends say they were blindsided by the news of Bell's death.

"He was actually a great friend of mine and just to see him die like that, it was tragic," said friend Alex Akers.

Like others, Akers only heard about bullying, but never saw it or its effects.

"He's one of those who you didn't really expect that he would do that," said another friend, Austin Akers.

"Marcus was a very active kid. He loved everyone he always wanted to be friends with everyone and that's what made everyone happy and it made me happy, too," said Sydney Taylor, who never noticed signs of distress from Bell. "None of that at all."

Other friends continued to remember Bell as a good friend.

"We had fun in class and stuff. He was always the life of the party," said one friend.

"I'd hang out with him a lot. He seemed like he was always happy, never in a bad mood," said another.

"I never seen him sad," said third friend.

Superintendent comments

The superintendent of Hamilton Southeastern Schools held a press conference Monday afternoon regarding the bullying allegations.

"We're deeply saddened," said Dr. Brian Smith, Hamilton Southeastern superintendent.

"I don't know that we'll ever know all the issues that led to this tragic event. But I do want to assure our parents we take bullying very seriously," said Smith.

Although unable to specifically talk about Jamarcus Bell's case, Smith stressed the importance of communication when it comes to bullying.

"We can't react and deal with something we don't know about," said Smith.

As for enforcement of the school's code, Smith says punishment is subjective and handled on a case by case basis.

The parents of Jamarcus Bell are asking the school to take a more active stand to prevent bullying in the system.

"It depends on the degree and extent. How serious is it, is it ongoing, is it repetitive?" Smiths said.

The tragic loss of such a well-loved student has everyone here asking what they could have done differently. While the circumstances leading up to his death remain very much a mystery, the lesson may be to keep the line of communication open.

The district issued this statement:

"This is a tragic loss touching many in our district and community. We have plans in place for these situations and will implement them Monday as we return from fall break to support our students and staff touched by this."

Anti-bullying has been in the news lately, after the suicide of several teens across the country, including 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg. President Obama posted a video and statement on the White House website encouraging young people to seek support and guidance if they are being bullied.

The school urges any student who is having thoughts of suicide or who is just having trouble dealing with problems to call this hotline.