Joshua teen had become target of bullying, friends and family say

JOSHUA -- Pictures in a slide show at the funeral home Wednesday night showed a smiling, sandy-haired boy with round cheeks playing in the snow, posing in sports uniforms and straddling a motorcycle.

That's because Jon Carmichael, 13, was always a happy kid, his friends said.

What the photos didn't show was the despair that led him to take his own life Sunday. Friends and family say he had become the target of bullies at Loflin Middle School.

"Some students would brag about what they did to him because they thought it was funny," said his friend and neighbor Felicity Zaicek, 14. "They put him in trash cans, stripped him down and even put him in a locker once.

"It's not funny."

Carmichael was smaller than some other boys his age, which made him a target for teasing, his family said. An incident Friday during an athletics class may have been the last straw, they said.

"Something has got to be done about this bullying," his aunt Crystal Locke said. "It's just not right. If you don't have the right kind of shoes or jeans or are a little bit different than everybody else, then that's it. They pick on you."

Dozens of students, friends and relatives crowded into the Mountain Valley Funeral Home in Joshua on Wednesday night for the visitation. A Star-Telegram reporter was there with the Carmichael family's permission.

Authorities said Carmichael hanged himself in a barn near his family home on the outskirts of Cleburne. He was the second Johnson County teenager to kill himself in the last six months, and in both cases, the families attributed the deaths, in part, to bullying.

In October, Hunter Layland, a 15-year-old freshman at Cleburne High School, shot himself, his family said.

In Northampton, Mass., prosecutors announced this week that they had filed charges against nine teenagers accused of harassing Phoebe Prince, 15, who committed suicide in January. Two teenage boys are charged with rape, and seven girls are charged with stalking, criminal harassment and violating Prince's civil rights. School officials won't be charged, even though authorities say that they knew about the bullying and that Prince's mother took her concerns to at least two of them.

Bullying has been around forever, but only in the last decade has the term "bullycide" been used to describe young people's suicides attributed to bullying. The term was coined by Neil Marr, author of the 2001 book Bullycide: Death at Playtime.

"You've got a problem," said Barbara Coloroso, an anti-bullying consultant, about the two Johnson County suicides. Bullycide is proof of "our failure as parents and educators to recognize the severity of it and to recognize and accept that some of our children may be bullied."

School policies

Johnson County Sheriff Bob Alford said his investigators are satisfied that Carmichael's death was self-inflicted. His department has not received a complaint about bullying, and no note was found at the scene, Alford said.

"A complaint would have to be made that some sort of a criminal act precipitated this," he said. "Anytime there is a suicide, there will be mitigating factors. But in this case, we really don't know what the cause of this was."

If new information is brought forth, he will take another look, Alford said, but investigators are not pursuing new leads at this time.

School officials are investigating, Joshua Superintendent Ray Dane said, but pursuing criminal charges has not been discussed.

Joshua school policy requires that principals or appointees investigate reports of bullying within 10 days. Students are not to be unsupervised in athletic locker rooms for safety reasons, Dane said. He said he was checking to see whether the policy was followed in this case. Athletic officials have begun to post a schedule of staff members who are to monitor students at all times.

Any parent who suspects bullying is urged to contact school officials, Dane said.

Joshua uses frequent staff training, student assemblies and other programs to dissuade bullying, he said. Athletes are also taught character-building lessons, Dane said.

"We're always trying to press upon our kids to be your best and do your best and treat people with respect. You do everything you can to be proactive," Dane said.

Joshua school board members did not return repeated requests for comment.

Texas' failings

Carmichael was born in Fort Worth. The family moved to Johnson County when he was about a year old, his aunt said. He is survived by his parents, Tim and Tami Carmichael, sister, Crystal and brother, Jimmy.

Carmichael loved the University of Texas Longhorns, his horse Handsome and a stray dog named Daisy. He enjoyed football and track.

"He just loved sports. He was fun," said friend Connor Hicks, 14. "He never said anything to me about being bullied."

Carmichael visited Shepherd's Valley Cowboy Church a few times with a friend. Youth pastor Brendon Johnston said some of the young church members are struggling with the loss, feeling that they should have done more to reach out to Carmichael.

Johnston said he wants them to learn about bullying.

"I want to challenge my kids to stand up and be a friend to those who might not have one," Johnston said.

Layland's friends said he was picked on because of a scar near his eye that he received during a car wreck as a toddler.

Three Johnson County youths, ages 13 to 18, committed suicide between 2004 and 2008, according to preliminary data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Statewide, 548 teens killed themselves during that time.

Brenda High, founder and co-director of Bully Police USA, an organization that advocates for bullied children, said: "It's time that county attorneys take charge if schools are not going to do their jobs. They can press charges against these kids."

Prosecutors can press charges for stalking, harassment and assault if the victim was hit or physically hurt, she said.

Texas rates a C-minus on its antibullying laws, according to a Bully Police USA report card. Efforts to toughen the section of the Texas education code that addresses bullying failed in 2009, she said.

States with A-plus-plus antibullying laws include Florida and Wyoming. Those states have provisions that address cyberbulling and ensure counseling for victims, for example.

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700

YAMIL BERARD, 817-390 7705