On Thursday — days after Jamel started the fourth grade at Joe Shoemaker Elementary School — police responded to a “medical incident” at his Denver-area home and rushed him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Denver police said Monday in a statement to The Washington Post. Although the circumstances surrounding Jamel’s death remain unclear, police said the medical examiner ruled his death a suicide.
Jamel’s mother told KDVR that she believes that her son killed himself in part because he was bullied at school — and she wants to raise awareness about how damaging it can be to a child’s self-esteem.
“I’m just sad he didn’t come to me,” she told the station about her son’s suicide. “I’m so upset that he thought that was his option.”
Authorities and school district officials have not confirmed that bullying was a factor in Jamel’s death but have said that the case is still under investigation. Asked whether the district was aware of any bullying, Denver Public Schools spokesman Will Jones said in an email: “Our priority right now is to look at all the concerns raised in this case, to keep all our students safe and to do a fair and thorough review of the facts surrounding this tragic loss.”
In an updated statement late Monday, Jones said the district is “deeply committed to ensuring that all members of the school community are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or transgender status.” He also said there are policies and procedures in place to ensure that LGBTQ students “can pursue their education with dignity — from policies and training to prevent and stop bullying to formal policies and guidance materials that fully respect gender identity.”
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the family of the student who passed away and to the entire Shoemaker community,” Jones added. “We are very saddened by this tragic loss of one of our kids.”
Authorities said the case appears to be “noncriminal.”
Pierce could not immediately be reached for comment.
Jamel’s mother told KDVR that her son told her that he was gay weeks before he returned to classes at Shoemaker Elementary.
Pierce said he seemed scared.
“He was like, ‘Mom, I’m gay.’ And I thought he was playing and I looked back at him because I was driving, and he was just curled up like this — so scared,” she said, curling her hands under her chin. “And I just looked at him and I was like, ‘I still love you.’ ”
She said he later decided to tell his classmates because he was “proud.”
Following Jamel’s death, Denver Public Schools said crisis counselors are available to help students and staff deal with the loss.
“Fourth and fifth grade teachers at Shoemaker are creating a space for students to share how they are feeling and to process their emotions after hearing this news,” Jones, the district spokesman, said in a statement. “Teachers are also letting students know about the [Denver Public Schools] crisis team members on-hand to meet their social-emotional needs.
“All involved professionals are aware of the potential effects the news of Jamel’s death may have on the overall well-being of the Shoemaker students and staff.”