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David Long speaks Wednesday, April 6, 2016 during an anti-bullying event at Dalton State College. Long's son, Tyler, committed suicide after being bullied repeatedly.

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Parents of student who killed himself say bullying is an epidemic

On an October morning in 2009, David Long found his 17-year-old son Tyler had hanged himself in a closet.

He and his wife, Tina, have said Tyler was a victim of bullying through all of his teenage years, up to the day he died, and he took his own life after deciding that he had finally had enough.

The tragedy turned their lives upside down, but when they started to look around, they began to see their son was the victim of a much more widespread problem plaguing hundreds of thousands of students across the country. And it was a problem that wasn't being addressed.

"No one wants to talk about it," Tina Long said at an anti-bullying event at Dalton State College on Wednesday.

Since their son's death, Tyler's parents have dedicated their lives to shining a light on the toxic culture in some school systems that they believe caused their son to kill himself. They established a nonprofit called Everything Starts With 1 and began traveling the country advocating for victims of bullying.

"We don't have our son anymore, but we do have a voice," Tina Long said.

For the Longs and their organization, the first step in ending a culture that allows bullying is acknowledging that voice. They say students, parents and community members have to see that there is a problem and give a voice to the voiceless when they know students are being harassed.

Tember Marchant, a friend of Tyler's who said she used to play soccer with him, said his death might have been prevented if people had recognized the problem beforehand and stood up for him when he was insulted or assaulted in school. She said she now visits his grave regularly to talk to him, just wishing he could talk back.

Speaking at the Wednesday event, Marchant said, "If you know anybody that is being bullied, please stand up for them."

"Don't let your voice stay silent and don't let anyone else fall silent."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 4,600 young people between the ages of 10 and 24 commit suicide every year, making it the third leading cause of death for that group. Students who are bullied are disproportionately more likely to consider suicide, strong evidence for David Long's belief that it is a silent epidemic that has enormous consequences.

"There is a stigma around suicide, and people don't want to talk about it," Long said. "I never thought Tyler would do what he did, but he did."

Since Tyler ended his life, two other students in the area also have committed suicide after what their families said were years of bullying. In March 2015, Copper Basin senior Patrick Griffin shot himself to death. Two months later another student at Copper Basin named Jazmine Harris, 13, took her own life after what her family said was an "ongoing pattern of harassment, assault, and/or bullying."

David Long said stepping up just once can save a person's life and there is strength in numbers, but he also apologized on behalf of parents and adults everywhere who have allowed the epidemic to spread.

He said, "It's not a kid problem, it's an adult problem for us allowing this to continue."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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