THORNDIKE, Maine — The small group of people clustered Monday morning outside the Mount View school complex to remember Kitty McGuire, the 13-year-old sixth-grader who killed herself at her home last week, was undaunted by the cold rain that splattered their homemade signs and mixed with tears on their faces.
“We don’t support suicide, but we do support Kitty. REST EASY,” implored a poster held high by two Mount View High School students who darted outside to join the girl’s family members and others in an hourlong protest vigil that began at 7:30 a.m.
The Bangor Daily News had previously not named Kitty McGuire, but her family posted a notice online announcing Monday’s vigil that included her name.
Timothy McGuire, 26, Kitty’s biological uncle, and other relatives present said the family wanted the girl’s story to be told. He described her as “a good kid” with a great sense of humor and who enjoyed playing video games.
“She would always bring a light into a room,” he said Monday morning.
McGuire said that the girl’s family had known that she was having some trouble at school and that she had met with a guidance counselor several times to talk about it. He believes that Kitty would not have made the choice she did if it hadn’t been for the teasing or bullying she was going through, and he said that he wants RSU 3 to “admit they have a bullying problem.”
RSU 3 Superintendent Heather Perry said last week that there were three separate instances where students came forward to report that Kitty was being teased, but that they had been appropriately dealt with each time. The Waldo County Sheriff’s Office is actively investigating the suicide and rumors that bullying may have played a role. The school is thoroughly looking into the allegations as well, Perry said.
“It’s too early to say for sure, and I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to say for sure,” she said about whether bullying was involved. “We have not completed the investigation.”
Last week, the superintendent said that the causes of Kitty’s suicide are likely to be “multiple and complex.”
One of those possible factors is the fact that a relative Kitty was very close to — an uncle who was like a brother to her and who struggled with mental illness — committed suicide at home last April, according to her family members.
“She had a very hard time after his death,” Hannah McGuire, Timothy McGuire’s wife, said.
The close-knit family, shocked by her uncle’s sudden death, tried their best to support Kitty through her own grieving process. They sought out counseling.
Timothy McGuire said that Kitty endured bullying around her sexual orientation.
“I just hope the school gets a wake up call,” he said.
The family is hoping that school administrators will pay more attention to bullying, and also that they will change their stance on how students are allowed to remember Kitty.
Perry and mental-health experts last week said that school officials were doing their best to support students in their grieving process without glorifying the manner of Kitty’s death. Some students who wore buttons, bracelets and T-shirts in her memory and against school bullying were asked to take them off or turn the shirts inside-out during the week, though by Friday, Perry said students were allowed to leave them on.
The superintendent wrote an email to parents saying that the school district’s mental-health consultants said that “accidental memorializing” of the tragedy was something the school needed to avoid. Students were encouraged to speak with the many counselors made available and also to write letters and cards for Kitty’s family.
Nevertheless, some of the district’s decisions sat badly on the McGuires.
“They’re silencing those kids,” Timothy said.
But Perry said that school administrators chose to allow the Monday morning gathering on school grounds.
“I think it’s important to allow the family to share their feelings and get this information out. The messages they were sending are very important. They were positive messages,” she said. “We’re all in mourning. The school community is in mourning. We’re all impacted by this.”
Administrators did contact Hospice Volunteers of Waldo County to let them know that the gathering would take place, and several volunteers came to lend an ear.
“We’re here to listen,” one said.
As family members held up signs remembering Kitty and asking the school to change its stance on bullying, passing drivers sounded their horns periodically in response to one young man’s request for them to honk if they are against school bullying. Other students exiting buses at times thanked the group for what they were doing.
Flic Shooter, the bereavement coordinator for the hospice volunteers, talked with family members and also the students who were part of the group.
“Many, many people have been touched by suicide,” she said. “It’s very difficult to talk about. People feel very isolated, like they’re alone, but they’re not. And we need to reach out and support each other.”
For questions or concerns about suicide prevention, call the Maine Crisis Hotline at 888-568-1112 or chat with a counselor at imalive.org.