Security camera footage captured the scene in a Cincinnati elementary school bathroom on Jan. 24. But as the school has so far declined to release the video, precisely what it shows is in dispute.
What is not in dispute, however, is the fact that one of the boys in the video, 8-year-old Gabriel Taye, was found unconscious in that bathroom and that he took his own life two days later.
Now the boy’s mother — who only recently found out about the video — wants some answers. Was there a connection between what happened in the bathroom and Gabriel’s suicide?
A Cincinnati homicide detective who has viewed the video said it shows a student in a red and gray coat punching a student wearing glasses in the stomach, sending him to the ground on all fours. The boy then jumps in the face of another student in a “menacing manner.”
And then Gabriel walks in, a boy described by his family’s lawyer as an enthusiastic, well-dressed third grader who loved wearing neckties to school. He shakes hands with the boy in the red and gray coat.
Then, while shaking Gabriel’s hand, the boy appears to yank Gabriel to the ground, and to “celebrate and rejoice in his behavior” as Gabriel lies motionless on the ground, according to an email description of the video by the police detective reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer and obtained independently by The Washington Post.
For five minutes, Gabriel lay there unconscious as students stepped over his body, pointing, mocking, nudging and kicking him, until an assistant principal entered the bathroom and found him, according to the detective’s description.
Two days later, Gabriel took his own life. His mother found him in his bedroom. He had hanged himself using his own neckties.
For months after his suicide, Gabriel’s mother had no knowledge of the trouble in the school bathroom. School officials did not notify her that her son was assaulted or unconscious — they simply told her he had fainted, the family’s lawyer, Jennifer L. Branch, told The Washington Post.
It was not until March, while the family’s lawyers were investigating the circumstances leading up to the boy’s death, that they learned about the video.
The family decided to release information about the video this week, in the hope that parents and others in the community might come forward with information about what happened. Branch said the legal team is investigating to determine if it will file a lawsuit, and if so, against whom.
On Thursday, Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco told a local radio station that her office is reopening the investigation into Gabriel’s death.
Cincinnati Public Schools initially declined to release the video to the public or to comment about it. But after the publication of an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer on Wednesday, the school district said it plans to release the video in the coming days, blurring out the faces of the minors to protect their identities.
The school district also released a statement saying the description of violence against the boy provided by the detective, lawyers and the Enquirer mischaracterized the video.
“While we are concerned about the length of time that Gabriel lay motionless and the lack of adult supervision at the scene, when school administrators became aware of the situation, they immediately followed protocol by calling the school nurse to evaluate Gabriel,” the school district’s statement read.
District officials said the school nurse had checked Gabriel’s vital signs and found that they were normal. The statement also said the nurse contacted Gabriel’s mother and asked her to pick him up and take him to the hospital, a claim denied by the family, Branch said.
“On the eve of Mother’s Day, it is unfortunate that CPS chose to blame Gabe’s mother for not taking him to the hospital after he was injured at school,” Branch said.
On the evening after the school told Gabriel’s mother he “fainted,” the boy was nauseated and vomiting. His mother took him the hospital, where she was told he simply had the stomach flu, Branch said. Gabriel stayed home from school the following day, but returned on Jan. 26.
“He went to school and we have no idea what happened,” Branch said. That day, he would come home from school, go to his room and take his own life.
“Though the connection between this incident at school and Gabriel’s suicide are not clear, the district shared this video with police investigators at the time of the incident,” the school district said in its statement Thursday. “Their investigation has concluded and no charges were filed.”
It is not clear how soon after the altercation school officials watched the security camera footage of the bathroom.
But Det. Eric Karaguleff of the Cincinnati Police Homicide Unit viewed the security camera footage just days after Gabriel’s death. He sent an email to the school’s assistant principal, saying he saw “some concerning events in the video and I don’t even have a child at the school.”
“I witnessed behavior that in my belief is bullying and could even rise to the level of criminal assault but due to the apparent age of the children involved my current opinion is it could be better dealt with appropriately at the school level,” he said in the email.
Gabriel’s death came amid a spike in youth suicide in Hamilton County, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. Thirteen deaths were recorded for 2016 and seven so far this year.
Branch said the parents at the school deserve to know about the incident to hold honest conversations about bullying in school.
“For the parents at that school, they need to ask questions when things happen because they may not be getting the whole story from the school district,” Branch said. “Covering it up and pretending it’s not happening isn’t doing anyone any good.”
Gabriel was the only child of his single mother, who is engaged to be married, Branch said. He had no signs of any medical or mental health issues, and was an “adorable” and “happy-go-lucky” child. Teachers described him as a positive, neat, well-spoken and behaved student.
“How does an 8-year-old become so hopeless?” Branch said.
Gabriel’s mother has declined to give interviews since the news about the video broke, but in the initial aftermath of her son’s death, she spoke to local television stations, identifying herself as Cornelia Reynolds and saying she believed bullying played a role in Gabriel’s decision to take his life.
The school system responded at the time by saying there had been no reports of bullying at Carson between August and December 2016, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
Reynolds told WLWT her son spent a significant amount of time in the school nurse’s office and there were some days Gabe simply wanted to stay home. After his death, she took those as signs that students were bullying him.
“I guess he didn’t know how to tell me stuff was happening,” Reynolds said. “Him going to the nurse’s station or him not wanting to go to school, that was his way of trying to communicate with me. That was his way.”
“He probably didn’t want to say, ‘Ma, somebody’s bullying or picking on me,’ you know? Reynolds continued. “He just didn’t know how to tell me.”
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