Inquiry rules out bullying death of fifth-grader

DECATUR, Ga. - An Atlanta area 5th grader was not bullied before he committed suicide in April, according to an independent investigation ordered by DeKalb County school officials.

Instead, interviews with more than 50 teachers and friends at Dunaire Elementary suggest outside factors - including the death of a close relative - influenced 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera to take his own life, school officials said at a news conference Wednesday.

"I see no evidence of any verbal or written report of bullying against Jaheem, by anyone," said retired Fulton County Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore, who was retained by Dekalb County School System officials to review circumstances preceding the boy's death.

Authorities say a family member discovered Jaheem's body in his Atlanta-area home after he hanged himself on April 16.

Masika Bermudez, insists her son was bullied at Dunaire Elementary, in Stone Mountain, and that administrators did nothing even after she visited several times.

Wednesday, Moore outlined a detailed chronology of events in the months preceding Jaheem's death. Moore said Bermudez visited the school at least twice just before her son's death, and frequently complained that she "didn't like the way children treated each other" in America and planned to return to her native St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands.

But "In neither incident was there any complaint that Jaheem was being bullied," Moore said. "There was no specific complaint, just general comments."

Moore said several children interviewed reported Jaheem suffered the same amount of teasing as most of his peers. Teachers, meanwhile, said he was hit hard by the recent death of his grandmother, and commented that he wanted to be buried next to her.

"I conclude that a multiplicity of factors appear to coincide to explain this tragic fact," Moore said during a news conference that was closed to the Bermudez family and others not in the media.

The news conference was broadcast on a screen outside the room and a woman could be heard sobbing loudly during parts of the presentation. School system safety officers charged two protesters with trespassing and obstruction after they chanted "shame" and refused to leave, according to school system spokesman Dale Davis.

Gerald Griggs, an attorney representing Bermudez, said the family was "shocked" at the results of the investigation.

"(Jaheem) was bullied repeatedly at Dunaire Elementary, which caused his death," Griggs said.

The family has filed an intent to sue DeKalb County Schools, the county and school administrators. The county and school district have 30 days to respond before the lawsuit becomes official.

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