School official admits there's a problem after bullying blamed for 2nd student suicide

School official admits there's a problem after bullying blamed for 2nd student suicide

May 19th, 2015 by Ben Benton in Local Regional News

Jazmine Kellie Harris, a 13-year-old student at Copper Basin High School in Polk County, Tenn., took her own life on Friday and family friends are pointing to bullying as the cause.

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It's the second student suicide at the school this year and the second time tragedy comes amid allegations of bullying.

Jazmine's best friend, 14-year-old Kaylah Redden, says the teen was being bullied daily, physically and emotionally, and she and her mother, Pam Duvall, say that the bullying had been going on "for months."

Kaylah and Jazmine, both eighth-graders, went to the principal's office about it but "the school didn't do anything about the bullying," Duvall said.

"My daughter, almost every day, came home to me complaining that they still haven't done anything about her best friend being bullied. And now her best friend is dead," Duvall said.

Polk County Director of Schools Dr. James Jones said school officials are initiating an internal investigation into what happened and how bullying played a role.

Jones said Jazmine and her mother also had reported the bullying and "were trying to deal with it."

"I hate the thought of pain that the mother is going through, especially since she reached out to us more than once," Jones said.

Jones said he was reluctant to talk about the bullying further without speaking with the school system's legal counsel and learning more about the bullying allegations.

Polk County Director of Schools Dr. James Jones.

Polk County Director of Schools Dr. James Jones.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Directional sign for Copper Basin High School in Copperhill, Tenn. (Facebook Photo)

Directional sign for Copper Basin High School in...

"We just feel so bad for the family," Jones said. "I can't imagine, and nobody can unless they've been there. Our prayers are with the family."

Jazmine was a member of the band who rode horses, loved social media, music and singing, and her family and friends, according to her obituary. She would have turned 14 on Sunday.

Jazmine's suicide is the second this year at Copper Basin High School that happened under the cloud of bullying.

On March 5, 18-year-old Patrick Griffin took his own life amid accusations of bullying that went unchecked. The boy's mother, Doresa, and brother, Raymond, said they were certain that more should have been done.

School officials said in April that those allegations couldn't be substantiated, but Jones admits that something's wrong.

"It's hard to deny that there's a problem with two suicides and both of the families alleging that there's bullying," Jones said Monday.

The signs were there for those who saw them right up to the end, Kaylah and Duvall say. Every one of Jazmine's visits to their house came with complaints of bullying.

Jazmine had dinner at their home last Thursday night and wanted to spend the night but couldn't since it was a school night.

Friday morning, Jazmine wasn't at school. Kaylah got a message from her over Skype about 9:50 a.m. that said, "Goodbye, Kaylah, I'm sorry. I love you,'" Duvall said. "Then there was a missed call at 9:52" on Skype.

"She killed herself around 10," Duvall said.

Duvall said she and Kaylah didn't get back on a computer to learn of the tragedy until after school Friday afternoon.

Now they're left with "what-ifs."

"Something has got to be done," Kaylah said.

"My daughter's heart was shattered and mine was, too," Duvall said through tears on Monday.

"Our school needs help. We can't lose any more kids."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.

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