Just days after the start of the new year, Charles Weatherspoon, of Michigan, was checking on his 9-year-old daughter after his son said she was playing a scary prank. When Weatherspoon went two the bedroom of his daughter, A’layah, he found her hanging by a belt from her bunk bed.
After making the startling discovery, Weatherspoon cut down his daughter, but it was too late. There was nothing doctors could do to save A’layah, who was pronounced dead on Jan. 6.
Now, Weatherspoon is reckoning with his daughter’s tragic suicide and is forced to reexamine the signs of depression that he missed.
In an interview with the Oakland Press News, Weatherspoon revealed A’layah endured years of bullying by other students at Cooley Elementary School in Waterford.
Weatherspoon said the other kids at school would call A’layah names and make fun of her braids. He said that she was told she was ugly and was disliked by everyone. Eventually, the bullying escalated to a point that caused A’layah to feel physically ill. However, when Weatherspoon asked her to talk about the bullying, she would not open up.
“I had asked her before if she needed to talk to someone and she would say, ‘No daddy.’ I think she was embarrassed. And then on New Year’s Day, she said she really, really needed to talk to me,” Weatherspoon said.
It wasn’t until after his daughter’s death that Weatherspoon realized how her habit of distancing herself from others was a sign that she was in need of help.
To make matters worse, Weatherspoon and his family were never fully informed of the bullying she experienced because school administrators never witnessed it; thus, the bullying was never reported.
A superintendent for the Waterford School District also told the Press News that the district-wide policy for bullying involves contacting the bullied child’s parents immediately, but no allegations of bullying were reported to Cooley staff.
Additionally, Weatherspoon believes an injury A’layah received at school may have contributed to her mental health issues.
A few weeks before she took her own life, A’layah came home from school with “a large bump protruding from her forehead just between her eyebrows and a small cut on the bridge of her nose,” reported the Press News. A’layah told her parents that she had run into a pole during recess.
Although officials at the school helped treat her injury, they never notified the parents, a spokesperson for the Waterford School District admitted.
“When a child is injured at school, it is our policy to notify the parent. On this particular day, the student hit her head on a piece of playground equipment. She was given ice for the area. However, the parents were not notified, which was a mistake,” Rhonda Lessel, director of Waterford school and community services, said in a statement.
Weatherspoon believes his daughter suffered a concussion—which some studies have shown can increase a child’s overall risk of depression.
After his child’s death, Weatherspoon found out A’layah had talked to her brother about committing suicide the summer before, but the younger Charles didn’t reveal this information until after his sister’s death.
In the aftermath of his daughter’s death, Weatherspoon urges other parents to talk to their children: “It’s too late for her, but it’s not too late for someone else’s kid. Talk to your kids. As parents, we can think everything is OK and it’s not. A little girl that was full of life is gone.”
(Photo: gisele/iStock/Getty Images)