A funeral is planned today for 14-year-old David Phan of Taylorsville, Utah, who committed suicide after being bullied one too many times.
David, a student at Bennion Junior High, stood in front of other students on a sky bridge just outside the school and shot himself in the head Thursday afternoon.
On social media sites, parents criticized the school, saying more could have been done to prevent David’s death. District officials, however, say measures are already in place and instead, claim “Phan’s family knew the teenager was dealing with numerous personal issues,” as local Fox 13 reported here.
“David was an outstanding son but he shielded his parents from horror and the negative experiences he was facing at Bennion Junior High,” said Thanh Tung Than Trong, David’s cousin, in an emotional press conference Sunday.
Than Trong said that prior to Phan’s death the family did not know he was bullied.
“The last few days have been an absolute living nightmare to learn that he was bullied in school where he was supposed to be in a safe learning environment,” said Than Trong.
David’s friends, however, knew. Maheta Wily said the boy had been bullied for years.
“Kind of half and half I kind of did feel it coming but I didn’t know it would go that far,” Maheta said. “They name-called, they played jokes on him. They had charity week and they sent him telegram teasing him and in PE class they stole his clothes.”
The day David took his life, he had been sent home early after being sent to see the principal, with his mother called in. District officials gave a “no comment” when asked if David was disciplined, but they also said “that meeting was not in regards to bullying.”
Phan’s family issued a statement, quoted by local ABC 4 as follows:
An excerpt from the family’s statement reads:
“David was an adored son, beloved by his close knit parents, older brother, and large extended family. David’s home life was full of support and unconditional love. His parents are devastated to have lost their young son who rarely left their side. Many of his peers and members of the community have confirmed that David was an amazing student and extraordinary friend.”
The statement goes on to address the problem of bullying that deeply affect David:
“David shielded his parents from the horror he was facing and his negative experiences at Bennion Jr. High. The last few days have been an absolute living nightmare to learn that he was bullied in school where he was supposed to be in a safe learning environment. It is time for us to turn the hate David endured by bullies into a learning experience to strengthen a divided community. Let us not deny the numerous accounts that David was a victim of serious bullying at school. Allow his family and friends the ability to heal by us all taking accountability and to move towards conversations and practices that will enable us to prevent other children from enduring this unbearable pain.”
The family says they plan on meeting with school administrators to set up an anti-discrimination safe zone for students and other ways to curb bullying.
The handgun David used came from his home, local Fox 13 reported Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal as saying. The gun had been locked up in a safe at the home. Hoyal said David knew where the weapon was and was somehow able to access it.
As David walked across the skybridge, he ran into a group of seven students he knew, Hoyal said. There was a “very short” conversation between David and the group before David pulled out a gun and shot himself before anyone had time to react. Hoyal declined to discuss what was said between David and the students.
An account at Wells Fargo has been set up by the family for donations to go towards anti-bullying education and outreach.