Ashawnty Davis wanted to be a WNBA star.
But after a video of the 10-year-old fighting another girl was posted to social media, Ashawnty was bullied, her family said.
The attacks brought on a despair so crushing that her basketball dream — and any other chance of happiness — felt impossible, relatives said.
So the girl from Aurora, Colo., hanged herself Nov. 16. She died Wednesday after spending nearly two weeks on life support at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Ashawnty was a fifth-grader at Sunrise Elementary School who brought “joy to everyone,” her father, Anthony Davis, told Denver’s Fox affiliate.
But something changed after her first fight in late October, which her parents said happened after Ashawnty confronted a girl who had been bullying her.
“I saw my daughter was scared,” her mother, Latoshia Harris, told the Fox affiliate.
When a video of the girls fighting while other kids watched was uploaded to Musical.ly — a smartphone app popular among elementary school children — Ashawnty was devastated, her mother said.
“My daughter came home two weeks later and hanged herself in the closet,” Harris said.
Police arrived at the family’s home in southeast Aurora about 10 p.m. on Nov. 16, after receiving a call that the 10-year-old was not breathing, Aurora Police Department spokesman Chris Amsler said in an email.
Ashawnty’s death is being investigated as a suicide.
Musical.ly allows users to post short music, lip-syncing and dance videos. While the app is intended for users age 13 and over, it’s a sensation among younger children who aren’t required to enter their age upon signing up, unlike with Facebook and Snapchat, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Some parents disapprove of the app, believing it leads children to obsess over self-image and puts them at risk of exploitation, the Tribune reported.
Musical.ly’s website has a support page for parents that encourages them to “take an active role in your teenager’s online experience.” The page asks parents to report inappropriate content or behavior and includes a guide to cyberbullying.
“We learned of this incident through news reports and we are absolutely heartbroken to hear about this,” Musical.ly said in a statement. “Our hearts are with the Davis family in this unimaginably painful time.”
The Cherry Creek School District said it became aware of the fight video on Oct. 24, when a local media outlet reached out for comment and sent a link to the video. The district turned the video over to police, and school officials spoke with the students and their parents about the incident. District officials said the fight appeared to have taken place on a school field but not during school hours.
Ashawnty’s death was a “heartbreaking loss” that “has shaken the whole school community,” district officials said in a statement. “Our hearts and thoughts go out to the family and everyone who knew this child.”
Mental health and counseling services were offered at Ashawnty’s school for students or teachers who needed help processing her death, officials said.
The district does not tolerate bullying of any kind and has a comprehensive bullying-prevention program in place at each of its schools, officials said in a statement. The program teaches students to define and recognize bullying and to be “upstanders” who support student who are being bullied.
They are also taught to tell a trusted adult if they know another student is being bullied or is in a dangerous situation, officials said.
Research shows more middle-school-aged girls are harming themselves and attempting suicide. Before 2008, the number of girls 10 to 14 who visited emergency rooms after inflicting self-pain was relatively stable. But that rate has since escalated, likely because of younger teens’ access to smartphones and digital bullying, experts say.
From 2001 to 2005, girls between 10 and 14 rarely needed emergency room care for self-harm. About 110 girls per 100,000 visited hospitals for self-inflicted injuries during that time. After 2009, their rates of emergency room visits for those injuries began to match the rates of women between 20 and 24 — almost 318 per 100,0000 women, according to the Associated Press.
Self-harming behaviors such as ingesting poisons, cutting and overdosing on drugs are strong indicators of suicide — the second-leading cause of death among people between 10 and 24 in 2015, according to data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Experts say cellphones, which crossed the 50 percent threshold of ownership in late 2012, became increasingly popular around the same time when teen depression and suicide began to rise. By 2015, 73 percent of teens had smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center.
Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, wrote in The Washington Post last week that her research shows teens who spend five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely to have a least one suicide risk factor, such as depression or making a suicide plan, than teens who spent only one hour a day online. Suicide risks overall increased after two or more hours a day of time online, she wrote.
Ashawnty’s parents said the video of their daughter’s fight is difficult to watch. But they said they hope the video can raise awareness and help other children who suffer from bullying.
“I want other parents to know that it’s happening,” Ashawnty’s mother told Fox31 Denver. “That was my baby and I love my baby and I just want mothers to listen.”