As high school students across the county celebrate the sweet victory of graduation and look to their futures, we can’t help but think of Brandy Vela.
Brandy’s family had planned a big barbecue to celebrate her Texas City High School graduation this year. And she was lining up grants and scholarships for college.
But there would be no Pomp and Circumstance graduation march nor spring celebrations for Brandy. On Nov. 29, Brandy, who was 18, killed herself. After enduring months of harassing and vicious texts and other forms of cyberbullying, she shot herself in the chest at her home in Texas City, leaving her family devastated and a community shocked.
Brandy’s death set into motion The Daily News’ in-depth series “Bullied to the Brink.” Brandy was one of three Galveston County teens — with so much ahead of them — who in about a year’s time took their own lives after being bullied by peers and people they knew.
Bailie Lundy, 15 and a 10th-grade student at Texas City High School, was found on Feb. 12 in Amburn Park; she had hanged herself with a red checkered dog leash from a set of monkey bars. Police suspected it was a suicide. She had been having trouble with a group of girls at school, her mother told us.
My’Kayla Hurst-Thomas, of Galveston, died Dec. 9, 2015 from injuries sustained after jumping out of a moving school bus. She was 13. She had been arguing with a girl on the bus before she jumped. The Galveston County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death a suicide.
It was a sad and disturbing trend and one in the past seven weeks we’ve sought to explore through our series. The series began on a dark note and delved into the grim statistics about bullying and suicide. But along the way, we met educators, parents and children who were working to create a kinder world. Today, we end the series on a brighter note and with optimism about possible solutions.
We also conclude the series with a surprising consensus among experts who say the solutions to bullying might rest with children themselves. Resilience, compassion, empathy and courage can prevent bullying on the ground level. Along the way in this series, children who had the courage to speak out against bullying inspired us. So have adults who are seeking effective solutions to what authorities have called a crisis.
Jeff Temple, a psychology professor in the Behavioral Health and Research Department at the University of Texas Medical Branch, is leading a study of “Fourth R,” a program that teaches ways to resolve conflicts, deal with peer pressure and prevent violence. Understanding relationships can help prevent bullying, substance abuse and other risky behavior with peers, Temple said.
Many well-meaning schools and adults tend to jump on programs, often after a tragedy. But many programs aren’t effective. Schools should use effective, research-based programs, Temple said. It’s good advice.
Although the series officially ends today, we’ll continue covering stories about bullying as the need and stories arise. We want to continue the conversation in hopes of preventing more tragedies, the only good that could come of the deaths of Brandy, Bailie and My’Kayla.
• Laura Elder