Coroner rules death was from suicide
By Jane Beathard
Administrators at London City Schools are cooperating with local law enforcement to investigate the death of 11-year-old Hailey Petee.
The fifth-grade student at London Elementary School was found dead in her home early Sunday — the apparent victim of a suicide.
“We’re investigating all aspects of the incident,” said London Police Chief Dave Wiseman. “We want to know what actually happened.”
On Monday, Wiseman did get confirmation from Madison County Coroner James Kaehr, M.D., that the cause of Petee’s death was suicide.
On Sunday, officers searched the student’s school desk, looking for clues about her mental state and conduct.
In broadcast reports, parents Melinda Groce and David Petee said their daughter hung herself after months of bullying by her peers. Petee suffered from attention deficit disorder and wore glasses, they said.
In the meantime, a telecommunications harassment case is pending in Madison County Municipal Court against London resident Alexis K. Zacharias, 40, who is accused of threatening the 11-year-old girl’s mother last fall via Facebook.
Zacharias pleaded not guilty to the charge and is awaiting a March 4 trial. Repeated attempts by The Madison Press to contact Zacharias for comment were not successful.
Zacharias also was charged with disorderly conduct against the 11-year-old girl. That charge was dismissed.
Madison County EMA Director Roger Roberts and counselors were in LES Monday morning to assist grieving students and staff members.
Superintendent Tom Ben said the district is mourning the tragic loss of life.
“As a faculty, we extend our sympathy to Hailey’s family and friends. We respect the privacy of the family during this time of bereavement and will refrain from any additional comments,” Ben said.
Suicides of girls younger than 14 are extremely rare in the United States, said Julie Cerel, a psychologist and suicide bereavement expert with the University of Kentucky.
In 2010, 274 children in that age bracket committed suicide. Only 87 were girls. However, Cerel noted the number increased in recent years.
Cerel said bullying alone will not lead a child to commit suicide. Family problems and mental illness are contributing factors. Add a stressor such as a family death or interaction with the juvenile court system and a child may act impulsively.
“Child suicides involve impulsivity most of the time,” Cerel said. “They don’t think it through at the moment.”
Parents should talk to their children about suicide. Avoiding a conversation is the wrong approach, Cerel stressed.
“Kids are already hearing about suicide (from friends and the media),” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask them if they are thinking about it.”
At highest risk of considering suicide are siblings of a victim.
Classmates are also at risk, but not those closest to the victim. Close friends see and suffer the havoc caused by a suicide and are less-likely to mimic that behavior as a result, Cerel said.
“It’s the ‘marginal’ kids that are of greater concern,” she added.
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