PRIMGHAR, Iowa — The mother of a gay Iowa high school freshman who killed himself last weekend said she knew her son was being harassed but that she and the rest of the family didn’t realize the extent of the bullying.
Jeannie Chambers, of Primghar, said her son, Kenneth Weishuhn Jr., dismissed her concerns over the bullying and hid his pain behind a smile.
“When I talked to him, he blew it off like it wasn’t a big deal,” Chambers told the Sioux City Journal for a story published Tuesday.
Kenneth, 14, died Sunday of what the O’Brien County Sheriff’s Office described only as a “self-inflicted injury.” The sheriff’s office is investigating, and Chambers said detectives were examining her son’s cellphone and had already examined his Facebook account and a computer he used.
Kenneth, who attended South O’Brien High School in nearby Paullina, came out about a month ago to family and friends, and he quickly became the target of threatening cellphone calls, voicemails and online comments, his mother said.
His sister Kayla Weishuhn, a sophomore at the school, said her brother’s life took a marked turn for the worse after he came out.
“He was pretty popular, he had a lot of friends, but once they found out he was gay a lot of them turned on him,” she told Sioux City television station KCAU.
Kayla, 16, said some of her classmates were the first to bully her brother.
“I was just really mad because those guys were supposed to be my friends and they were making fun of my brother. I tried to stick up for him a couple of times, but I guess it wasn’t enough,” she said.
Dan Moore, the superintendent of the South O’Brien Community School District, said administrators knew of only one incident regarding Kenneth and that he believes they dealt with it well.
“I feel the school did address the issue that they were aware of when it came to their attention,” Moore said. “Obviously, we had no idea that we’d have an end result like this, or what was going on outside of here.”
He said administrators didn’t know about the alleged online and phone harassment, but that they may not have intervened even if they did unless it carried over into school.
Teachers began standing in the hallways after someone complained that boys were yelling slurs at Kenneth, and the school addressed the issue of bullying at an assembly. But the teen’s mother and sister said they don’t think administrators did enough to protect him.
Chambers said the school never reached out to her about the harassment her son was facing, although she said she also didn’t contact the school at her son’s urging. She said her son told her the harassment died down when the bullies turned their attention to a pregnant girl, and he feared it would get worse again if she intervened.
“I didn’t contact the school, which I should of, but he was just like, ‘Mom, please don’t … you’ll make it worse,” Chambers said.
Moore said the district has no plans to change its policies, but that it is still examining the circumstances surrounding Kenneth’s death and will explore ways of better impressing upon students that bullying is unacceptable.
Kenneth’s mother said it’s up to the authorities to decide whether to press charges. She just wants the bullying to stop.
“I just hope that they see what they took from us and I really hope that it touches their heart for them to never, ever want to bully somebody again,” she said. “If that’s the one thing that comes out of this, that would make me happy.”