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Report: Family violence, loved one’s death affected 5th-grader before suicide
Domestic violence and the death last year of a beloved grandmother may have played a role in the suicide of a DeKalb County fifth-grader, according to an investigative report released Wednesday.
Jaheem Herrera, 11, hanged himself in a bedroom closet April 16 after coming home from school. His mother, Masika Bermudez, alleges that Jaheem had been bullied and that school officials did nothing even after she complained six to eight times.
But an investigation by retired Fulton County judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore found “no evidence that anyone told administrators or teachers about other students teasing or harassing Jaheem.” A written copy of Moore’s findings, summarized at a May 20 news conference, was made public today.
School records show Bermudez visited Jaheem’s teacher and principal only once each during the school year, Moore said. Neither said Bermudez complained of bullying to them.
In an affidavit, Jaheem’s homeroom teacher said Bermudez “has at no point ever come to me to express any concerns about bullying, threats, physical violence or name calling (being called gay) in relation to her son.”
The teacher said Jaheem “never withdrew from the other students, never isolated himself and never ceased activities he enjoyed. He simply did not show any symptoms to me of sadness or depression.”
Bermudez’s attorney, on the other hand, said students called Jaheem “snitch, gay, virgin, you ugly … They threatened and attacked him in the bathroom in December 2008, choking him until he passed out.”
Moore noted that Norman Montgomery Keene, his mother’s “significant other,” had pleaded guilty twice to domestic violence charges. In 2006 in Rockdale County, Bermudez said “he lunged across the kitchen and grabbed her by the throat, shoving her against the east wall.” She told police he hit her with a kitchen chair and kicked her in the throat after she fell to the floor, Moore said, quoting from the original police report.
Keene was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to battery and obstructing a person from making an emergency phone call, Moore said. A decade earlier, she said, Keene pleaded guilty in the Virgin Islands to a gun charge and to beating Bermudez and kicking her in the chest.
Moore also noted that Jaheem was extremely to close to a grandmother who reportedly raised him. After her death in October 2008, she said, a teacher heard Jaheem say he wanted to be buried next to her.
The judge found school officials responded appropriately to two fights involving Jaheem that were reported to them. Two other incidents, one of which involved a schoolmate placing Jaheem in a chokehold, only came to light after the boy’s death, she said.
In the week of Jaheem’s death, Moore said, some students teased him for carrying a pink bookbag, which they described as “gay.” Other students said Jaheem shrugged off the name-calling.
On the day of his death, she said, Jaheem’s mother sent him to his room after he got involved in a disagreement with his sisters. “When it was time for dinner, his mother sent his sister to get Jaheem. His sister found Jaheem’s lifeless body hanging in the closet,” Moore reported.
Moore noted that Bermudez’s attorney would not allow the judge to speak to his client. He did provide written answers to Moore’s questions.
Moore has billed the school district at least $170,000 to investigate Jaheem’s case and other alleged bullying at Dunaire Elementary.
NOTE: Technical issues prevent us from posting Judge Moore’s 77-page report. Perhaps tomorrow.