Jackson Grubb built a clubhouse in his backyard in West Virginia, hoping it might help him make new friends, his grandmother said.
Family members said the 9-year-old boy — the child they affectionately called “Action Jackson” — had been bullied by some of his peers at school and around their trailer park in Soak Creek. But, they said, he rarely shied away from confrontation, often responding to his tormentors with a clever comeback — and sometimes throwing a punch, according to NBC affiliate WVVA.
Recently, though, he had started to pull away, relatives said, and they were growing increasingly concerned.
“I was spending time with him, trying to get it out of him,” Betsy Baber, Jackson’s grandmother and guardian, told WVVA. “But Jack’s the type that holds things in, and I couldn’t get to him.”
On Saturday afternoon, one of Jackson’s sisters discovered him dead when she went into his room to show off a frog she had captured for him.
“Please stop bullying,” one sister wrote hours later on Facebook. “I just lost my brother jackson … he hung himself … keep me in ur prayers … thanks for all the support too.”
Raleigh County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call about a hanging Saturday in Soak Creek, about 65 miles from Charleston, W.Va., according to a police statement.
Authorities said they did not suspect foul play; the boy’s fatal injuries appeared to be self-inflicted, they said, though his death is still under investigation. The state Medical Examiner’s Office said Friday it could not release any information to the public.
Jackson’s funeral services are scheduled for Saturday afternoon, according to the boy’s obituary.
“He was a student at Sophia Soak Creek Elementary School and played basketball for the Hawks and a member of the Sophia First Baptist Church where he was involved with the Awanas,” the obituary said. “He loved cats and being outdoors where he liked to fish. He had a passion for building things and was very proud of the clubhouse he built in his backyard.”
Now, Jackson’s clubhouse sits empty, painted bright red the day after his death by relatives who wanted to finish the job for a boy who died too soon.
Baber said she believes her grandson, a third-grader, was a victim of bullying; but, she said, the family didn’t realize the severity of the situation until after Jackson’s death.
“They were bullying him and they were picking on him,” she told MetroNews. “They were saying things to him. They were touching him. And that led my grandson to do the things that he did.”
She added: “Just speaking from my heart — I believe that he just couldn’t take nothing no more. He had reached that point. but he didn’t think, I don’t believe, that it was going to go that way.”
Jackson’s uncle Shane Baber said the boy had recently asked to spend the night at his house. “I do believe bullying did play a part in it, but I don’t believe it was the primary cause,” he told MetroNews. “I want to believe that this boy went in there to try to scare his grandmother and have her find him. Not find him dead but find him struggling because I believe he was struggling inside.”
After Jackson’s death, his uncle posted a series of cautionary notes on Facebook.
“The word needs to get out [so] that … these young children who have no one to speak to do not contemplate suicide,” he wrote in one. “Hear your child’s voice before it’s too late.”
“If you don’t think that bullying is an issue than you are ignorant as hell,” he wrote in another.
Baber also stood up for his mother, who, he suggested, had been battling criticism in their community.
“She is a survivor and has lost a very large piece of her heart,” Baber wrote. “I have very seldom seen my mother this weak and distraught in her life. You never think that someone close to you, someone that you love like a lioness loves her cubs, would depart your life in this fashion. That’s why Betsy Baber is speaking out, not for herself but for all the babies out there that are on the brink.”
He added: “Nobody wants to face the real issues like BULLYING, they want to live in their bubble, comfort zone or nice cozy blanket. I commend you Mom, I stand by your side, and I know the loving, caring person that the struggles of life have tried to chip away but you are still you.”
Last year in West Virginia, 1,849 middle schoolers and 1,608 high schoolers surveyed said they had been bullied on campus; 1,851 middle schoolers and 1,604 high schoolers said they were victims of electronic bullying, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the federal government cautions against placing sole blame on bullying for youth suicides.
“The relationship between bullying and suicide is complex,” according to StopBullying.gov, a website managed by the Department of Health and Human Services. “Many media reports oversimplify this relationship, insinuating or directly stating that bullying can cause suicide. The facts tell a different story. In particular, it is not accurate and potentially dangerous to present bullying as the ’cause’ or ‘reason’ for a suicide, or to suggest that suicide is a natural response to bullying.”
Forty-nine states have anti-bullying legislation, according to the website.
Officials at the Raleigh County School District in West Virginia said that there have been no reports of bullying at Sophia Soak Creek Elementary School, according to NBC affiliate WSAZ.