An in-depth report on the suicide of former Dunaire Elementary School student Jaheem Herrera released last month concludes there is no evidence that fellow students bullied the boy, and a range of factors contributed to his death in April.
The report also contains previously unknown references to abuse in Jaheem’s family and claims factors in his home life were affecting Herrera at the time of his death. Among them:
The report mostly expounds on the final conclusions released by retired Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore in May. Moore, whom the DeKalb County School System hired to head the investigation, concluded Herrera had not been bullied at Dunaire Elementary–a point Bermudez and Herrera’s supporters vehemently challenged. Moore also supported school officials, saying they acted appropriately and had no way to know about alleged bullying against Herrera.
The investigation also found no evidence that Bermudez tried to contact school officials about bullying, which Bermudez also disputes. Herrera’s family and their lawyer, Gerald Griggs, have filed a lawsuit against the school system, claiming Dunaire Elementary officials were negligent. Griggs did not return several calls for comment, but the attorney has publicly disputed the in-depth report’s findings, claiming references to spousal abuse are a distraction from issues at the school.
The report includes references to police reports of violence in Herrera’s family, including details from an incident on Aug. 12, 2006, in which Bermudez told police Keene attacked her after she complained he wouldn’t accompany her anywhere.
“[Keene] lunged across the kitchen and grabbed her by the throat, shoving her against the east wall,” the report said. “They struggled in the kitchen, and she stated that he struck her in the back with a metal kitchen table chair, also leaving a dent and black mark on the refrigerator and a matching mark on her back that fit the curvature of the chair.”
When she fell to the ground, Keene kicked her in the throat, the report said, and Keene’s brother, Sean Nesbitt, came downstairs, grabbed her arms and held her. Keene punched her in the temple, it said.
Similar incidents occurred in St. Croix, according to police documents the investigation discovered.
“This is not a simplistic case of bullying,” the report said. “The investigation reveals a multitude of complex and significant factors impacting the life of this young boy before his death. … Jaheem’s life was affected by the serious domestic abuse which occurred in the home, certainly with Ms. Bermudez as the victim of Norman Keene.”
The report also made several recommendations, including a complaint system. The school system should create a form or document that would allow parents with complaints to document them in detail. The report also asked philanthropic groups and volunteers to help Dunaire Elementary students.
“Some students at Dunaire suffer from the harsh conditions of poverty and homelessness,” the report said. “When they come to school, some are angry, while others may be hungry or suffering from adverse family and living conditions. About one-third of students may be largely defined as ‘chronically homeless.’”
It also recommended staffing changes at the school, including an additional assistant principal, more than one full-time counselor, a full-time social worker instead of a part-time social worker and an assigned School Resource Officer from the local police department.
“Workshops and activities are needed to cultivate self-esteem among the students,” the report said. “This would help alleviate the students’ feelings of low self-esteem–a possible contributing factor to the children’s anger, covert teasing and covert name-calling.”