Family, friends remember teen, struggle with his death

Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 10:17 PM
Last updated Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 2:09 AM
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Jennifer Martin clutched a flickering white candle in her hand Thursday evening on the grassy lawn next to Jerad Meriweather’s home and hoped her friend could see it shining from heaven.

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Grovetown Elementary School teacher Tara Tredore (right) holds two candles during a vigil in remembrance of Grovetown Middle School pupil Jerad Meriweather, who committed suicide Jan. 18.   SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Grovetown Elementary School teacher Tara Tredore (right) holds two candles during a vigil in remembrance of Grovetown Middle School pupil Jerad Meriweather, who committed suicide Jan. 18.

“He never called me by my name,” said Jennifer, 13. “He always called me ‘sweetheart.’ He was the sweetest boy. I love him, and I know a lot of people who did.”

A week after Grovetown Middle School pupil Jerad Meriweather died by suicide, friends and family held a candlelight vigil to remember the vibrant eighth-grader who was described as a friend to all and a prolific writer with a brilliant mind. Several speakers said bullying is what led Jerad to kill himself in his bedroom Jan. 18, but family and officials said it is impossible to isolate one cause.

Gerald Meri­weather said his son was a passionate teenager wise beyond his years. Jerad would rather watch CNN or the Discovery Channel than cartoons, and they often took trips to Barnes & Noble to read books and drink hot chocolate.

He devoured books and wrote essays that were, to his father, better than work by adult authors. One essay about depression won Jerad an award at school in October, Meriweather said.

Jerad had a circle of close friends whom he cared about deeply and was known to take on their pain and troubles as if they were his own.

“It hurt him if something was happening to you,” said Meriweather, the pastor at The Church of God Holiness Tabernacle in Grovetown. “He learned people. He really did.”

While his family tries to grasp Jerad’s death and find answers, school officials said they have not confirmed bullying as a single culprit.

Columbia County Deputy Superintendent Sandra Carraway said none of Jerad’s teachers or guidance counselors had any complaints or reports from him this year about trouble at school. Grovetown Middle Principal Tom Smallwood said the same but added that the boy might have had a few issues last school year.

“Unfortunately, all too often there are things going on in kids’ lives that they don’t tell anyone about,” Carraway said. “If it’s not brought to our attention, all we can do is educate our students about how to respond.”

Richard Lieberman, a school psychologist who has coordinated suicide prevention efforts in Los Angeles County Schools, said there is usually not one single event to blame when dealing with adolescent suicide.

There are, however, precipitating events and risk factors such as depression, loss, substance abuse and past suicidal behavior. Though bullying and suicide can be related, ignoring the other life issues would be simplifying the problem, Lieberman said.

“You can have a case like, ‘Oh, she was a lesbian, she was bullied so she died by suicide,’ ” Lieberman said. “But really there were so many steps along the way. Sadly, all of the answers we need dies with the child that makes that choice. And that’s the struggle of survivors.”

According to the American Association of Suicidology, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for white children between the ages of 10 and 14 and fourth for black children in that age group.

Lieberman said the Internet age, in which children have more tools to torment others anonymously, has complicated the issue of bullying. A loss of dignity and self-worth is a trigger for hopelessness in a child, and has given professionals another factor when analyzing what can lead a child to suicide.

“You have to picture your busiest street and imagine seven traffic lights,” Lieberman said. “For a kid to go from thinking about suicide to attempting suicide, those lights have to turn green in a perfect storm.”

While questions linger, several of Jerad’s friends knew one thing they could do was set up a foundation in his honor to help others who might be dealing with similar issues.

E’mon Reeves, 14, and friends started the Jerad Meriweather Foundation and hope to raise money to hold memory walks and other events.

“In the world today, there’s a lot of unnecessary things such as bullying and kids losing their lives,” E’Mon said. “Jerad was one of those people who was there for anybody ... we want to be there for him.”

As candles burned outside Jerad’s house Thursday, speakers urged any child or adult who is feeling down or depressed to talk and find help. Every single person is loved, said Pastor Timothy Williams, of God’s Will and Grace Outreach. Sometimes they need to be reminded.

“We need to remember what our young people are going through is the real deal,” Williams said. “There’s nothing wrong with being different. ... It’s not what they call you. It’s what you answer to that matters.”

SUICIDE PREVENTION

WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE

• Threatening to hurt or kill oneself

• Talking about death or suicide

• Insomnia

• Rage

• Hopelessness

• Feeling like there’s no purpose to live

• Increased alcohol or drug use

IF SOMEONE IS SHOWING SIGNS:

• Do not leave the person alone.

• Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

• Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255).

TAKE IT SERIOUSLY

• 50 to 75 percent of all suicides give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member.

• Start by telling the person you are concerned. Don’t be afraid to ask if he or she is considering suicide. Let the person know you care and that they are not alone.

• Seek professional help: Encourage the person to see a physician or mental health professional.

• In an immediate crisis, take the person to an emergency room or psychiatric hospital or call the national help hot line.

Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

HOW TO DONATE

To donate to the Jerad Meriweather Foundation

Send gifts to:

P.O. Box 739

Grovetown, GA 30813

Comments (5) Add comment
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freeradical
1102
Points
freeradical 01/25/13 - 06:58 am
4
0
So Sorry for the family

So Sorry for the family .

Sounds as though he may have been to bright & insightful for this world.

Watching tv news all the time the thought of where the future is

going may have been just to depressing for someone who has the

ability to read between the lines at such a tender age .

I am convinced that many of the people who are taking us into the

future that he would have heard on TV news are banking on the fact that

they are old enough that they themselves will be dead by the time the

younger generation has to endure the consequences of their actions .

In the mean time they will fatten themselves , living high wide &

handsome on our childrens future .

God Bless Him

justputtin
1454
Points
justputtin 01/25/13 - 07:30 am
5
0
So sad

Taking your own life at 13. So, so sad. I hate to think of how down he must have felt to do that. Hopefully others can learn from this. God bless him and the family.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 01/25/13 - 10:23 am
3
0
Fine young man and certainly

Fine young man and certainly brought more light into this world by all accounts.

Jane18
12332
Points
Jane18 01/25/13 - 10:50 am
3
0
Jerad

So young, so caring, but was hurting so much, for some reason. When people learn about suicide, it will ease the pain somewhat. The main thing to remember is not to judge Jerad, we know nothing of what was in his mind. I am So sorry for his family and friends.

daphne3520
950
Points
daphne3520 01/25/13 - 11:39 am
1
0
The word in the streets of Grovetown is suicide because of
Unpublished

bullying. Now, until I posted about this incident yesterday as an "off topic," Post, the AC had made NO mention of this sucide!!!!!!! You go, AC!!!!!!!

Guy
2
Points
Guy 10/21/13 - 04:07 pm
0
0
My Prays go to the family

I'm sorry for the family, but the idea that the administators at Grovetown Middle School might have done something to prevent this is a total joke. Those people are total jerks and could not help a dog go to the bathroom! :(

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