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March 25, 2011

Rittman teen is driven to suicide by anti-gay bullying

Rittman--A 13-year-old boy violently ended his life on February 23 in a desperate act he felt was his only escape from the ceaseless anti-gay bullying he faced at school daily.

Nicholas Kelo Jr. played football in middle school, but switched to band when he made the transition to high school, which his mother Jacqueline believes might have spurred the bullying.

When she returned home from work on February 23, she found him near death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He died at Akron Children’s Hospital.

Although he played football, had a black belt in tae kwon do and an IQ tested in the superior range, Kelo and another boy were mercilessly bullied on the bus returning from a football game, and he would often talk to his mother about the ongoing harassment. He told her, however, that he bullies were not worth his time.

His mother posted a memorial page for him on Facebook, which in a month has received thousands of visits and has 459 people who “like” it.

One young man, Anthony James Risk, posted his own response.

“Reading about your death brought tears to my eyes. I attempted suicide myself because of bullying and harassment related to people’s perception of my sexuality. I understand the pain, and I will do all I can in the future to stop these deaths from continually happening. I will keep you in my thoughts. I send my love to you, your friends, and your family. Rest in peace, Nick,” he wrote.

While the duration of the bullying casts a shadow on Rittman High School and the district, Jacqueline Kelo said that she does not believe school officials knew the situation was as bad as it was.

The Rittman school district has an anti-bullying program in place in elementary school, and Superintendent Jon Ritchie said that he will add it to the curriculum in grades six through 12.

“We are going to teach them about compassion and empathy and how to be sensitive to other people’s needs,” he told the Akron Beacon Journal. “I think if we reach the time in our schools and in our society where people generally care about other people, the bullying issue could disappear.”

Kelo is the fourth student between 13 and 15 years old to kill himself in Rittman in the last three and a half years, and joins a procession of young people, straight and gay, who have been in the news in the last year or so for committing suicide after anti-gay bullying.

Last September, a flurry of teen suicides made news reports from across the nation, and spurred the It Gets Better project, in which LGBT people and their allies record videos telling their stories and assuring young people that, no matter how bleak things might seem, they will get better. The project was started by columnist Dan Savage, and has featured videos from the general public, entertainers, and even President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Mentor school district is facing two lawsuits alleging that they did too little to stop bullying. One was filed by the parents of a Croatian immigrant who was bullied for being “weird,” while the other was brought by the parents of Eric Mohat who, despite identifying himself as heterosexual, suffered vicious anti-gay bullying.

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