Twelve-year-old Joel Morales was a fragile, intelligent boy who sometimes stuttered. He had problems with fine motor skills, and he was small for his age. For over two years, he endured relentless bullying for his physical size and braininess. The teasing got so bad, his mother even had him transferred to a different school, but his tormentors continued to chase him in his own neighborhood. Joel was even mocked for the fact that his father died when he was just a baby.
On May 29, 2012, Joel Morales told a friend that he was tired of being treated so badly. Hours later, Joel's mother discovered his body hanging from a shower rod in their apartment.
Joel's mother is now suing New York City, the Board of Education, and the bullies who picked on him. It's a legal act that obviously cannot bring back her beloved son, but if what she's saying is true, I cannot blame her one bit for taking this step.
The details of how Joel's mother, Lizbeth Babilonia, found her dead child are almost too horrific to comprehend. It was around 11:30 p.m., and Joel's family had been searching for him for hours. When he didn't turn up, she finally returned to their East Harlem apartment, where she made the grisly discovery that Joel had hanged himself in the bathroom.
Babilonia screamed and cut him down with a knife, then had to be restrained from stabbing her own body. A neighbor had rushed from her next door apartment when she heard Babilonia's cries, at which point she knocked the knife from Babilonia's hand and attempted to give Joel CPR, but it was too late.
The bullying Joel endured was so reportedly so bad, Babilonia complained to the Department of Education "multiple times per week." She had him transferred to a new school, but the teasing continued when kids followed him to his after-school club. The family filed a police report, received an order of protection against one of the bullies, and even met with parents of the boys involved -- but nothing stopped what's being described in the lawsuit as the "severe, brutal physical and emotional abuse and harassment" he suffered.
Despite all of Joel's mother's attempts to put a stop to the bullying, the school never disciplined anyone. Babilonia even begged New York Housing Authority officials to move her and her son to another housing project, but her request was denied.
His grandfather said Joel was a sweet boy who didn't want his mom to worry:
We never had a problem with him, he was such a nice kid. He kept everything inside, he didn’t want to burden his mother.
It's an unspeakably tragic story that's becoming all too common these days. I don't know how it would help Joel's family to win the lawsuit, but I can imagine the sense of utter helplessness and rage that would haunt you as a parent after something like this happened. Who's truly to blame for Joel's death? The city, the Board of Education, the bullies themselves, the bullies' parents? If he were an adult, I'd say that Joel's decision to end his life was his own, but it's so much more complicated when a child commits suicide.
I hope at the very least that this lawsuit brings some changes that encourages schools to work harder to put a stop to bullying, particularly when a family makes multiple complaints. The kids who tormented Joel Morales should have been disciplined long before things got so bad the police were involved -- and the fact that they never had to account for their actions is every parent's nightmare.
Do you think Joel Morales' family is doing the right thing with this lawsuit?
Image via New York Daily News