An 11-year-old Ohio girl who had overcome brain cancer as a toddler fatally shot herself after being subjected to “relentless” bullying for more than a year, her family and officials said.
Bethany Thompson, a sixth-grader at Triad Middle School, took her own life on Oct. 19 after being tormented by a group of boys at school and enduring insults about her “crooked smile,” according to her mother, Wendy Feucht.
“There were boys at school that were just relentless—anything to get a rise out of her,” Feucht told TIME on Tuesday. “She would react and get upset. There’s only so much you can ignore. She was just done.”
Bethany was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008 when she was 3 years old. The little girl survived after undergoing surgery to remove the tumor and radiation treatments the same year. But nerve damage from the operation affected her smile. Her appearance was just one of many traits that her school bullies targeted to make fun of her.
“It wasn’t a huge issue, but she was very sensitive about it,” her mother said. “She had been picked on it before.”
On the day she took her life, Bethany told her best friend on the school bus ride home that she would kill herself once she got there. By the time her friend alerted an adult, Bethany had found a gun that was kept in the family’s home, walked to the back porch and shot herself. Her mother found her body.
“It was a complete shock,” Feucht said. “What was she thinking? What was so bad that she didn’t think anything could fix it, that she couldn’t tell anybody who loved her?”
“She just felt she had to take matters into her own hands,” she added. “It’s sad and it’s awful that she felt nobody could help her.”
The Champaign County Medical Examiner and Coroner’s office said preliminary findings show Bethany died from a gunshot wound to the head.
Feucht said the worst of the bullying took place last year when her daughter shared several classes with her tormenters. She and the school worked to rearrange Bethany’s schedule this year to create distance between them. Bethany’s mother and the school district thought the change seemed to make things better, but one bully still had one class with her, Feucht said.
Chris Piper, the superintendent of Triad Local Schools, said that “there were no further instances” of bullying after the schedule change. “Those instances stopped,” he said, adding that the school district investigates every report of bullying.
Feucht said she’s more sad, confused and disappointed than angry about how her daughter’s case was handled. She now hopes to spread awareness about the serious consequences of bullying.
“Even to a certain aspect, I didn’t know the struggles Bethany was going through. It takes one kid to look at them and say something and they’re gone,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason. Is it sad? Yes, it’s sad. But if her death stops bullying, this is what it took to get people to open their eyes.”
Feucht remembered her daughter as a kind-hearted and funny little girl who loved superheroes and animals and had dreams of one day being a veterinarian or paleontologist.
“I know that she’s in heaven. She’s happy and she’s perfect. She’s not hurting anymore,” she said. “I’ll see her again one day. I find a lot of comfort in knowing that.”