NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The grieving mother of an East Harlem boy said bullies drove her son to suicide, and she has decided to take a stand – starting with the parents of bullies.
As CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported Wednesday, it has been 15 months of heartache for Lisbeth Babilonia since her 12-year-old son, Joel Morales, killed himself at his home last year.
Babilonia now can only cling to pictures to remember her son.
“He always smiled,” she said. “He was happy, always.”
But that happiness ended when Joel hanged himself in the shower last May. He had been tormented by other students for years because he was small and sometimes stuttered.
She has also sued the New York City Department of Education.
The lawsuit is one of the first of its kind in New York State. It claimed that not only the parents, but the city, the DOE and the teachers all share responsibility for Joel’s death because they failed to stop the bullying.
“I had a meeting, together, with the fathers and the kids, and they didn’t do nothing,” Babilonia said.
She also said she reported the alleged bullying to administrators at his school and spoke with the parents of the accused bully.
The lawsuit claims the bullying got worse after his mother complained.
Relatives said the bullying didn’t end even when Joel transferred from one East Harlem school to another. They said they asked to be moved to another housing project but were turned down.
“The little kids came to my house and threw sticks at my door. They hit my little brother at school. The crossing guards at the school saw it and they saved my brother from getting his head broken,” Richard Salazar said in May 2012, shortly after his brother hanged himself. “Getting beat up, getting picked on, and I just kept teaching him not to fight, and I guess that was my mistake.”
Babilonia’s attorney, Joel Kessler, told Schneider this is a chance to hold everybody accountable.
“If you don’t stop the kids, they become empowered and they think they can do more,” he said. “It tormented this 12-year-old to the point where Joel didn’t know what to do, and chose the only thing he could think of, which was suicide.”
Kessler said the lawsuit aims “to bring to the forefront the problem that bullying has become.”
Babilonia knows the lawsuit cannot bring her son back, but hopes her fight in court can help others.
The city responded to the lawsuit, saying it involved “very tragic circumstances,” but refused further comment citing the pending litigation.
The lawsuit came as a teen in Greenwich, Conn., took his life on the first day of school, due to what his family also said was bullying.
The 15-year-old attended Greenwich High School. Police have revealed little information as they continue to investigate.
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