Teen's Suicide Prompts Anti-Bullying Editorial

Apr 23, 2012
Originally published on April 23, 2012 5:39 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Yesterday, the Sioux City Journal in Iowa did something it had never done before. It devoted the entire front page of its Sunday paper to an editorial. The headline, "We Must Stop Bullying, It Starts Here and It Starts Now." That editorial came soon after a 14-year-old Iowa boy named Kenneth Weishuhn committed suicide. He had been subjected to bullying and death threats after he told friends he was gay.

Mitch Pugh is editor of the Sioux City Journal and he joins me now.

Mitch, how did you decide to do this, to turn the whole front page over to this editorial about bullying?

MITCH PUGH: Obviously, you know, Kenneth's tragic death was the catalyst for the idea. But it really was a confluence of events for us. We learned about Kenneth's unfortunate suicide in the same week that the documentary film "Bully" was debuting in Sioux City. Significant portions of that documentary are filmed in Sioux City schools. And although Sioux City schools have one of the most proactive anti-bullying policies in the country, that film demonstrates there's clearly a lot of work that needs to be done. And obviously Kenneth's unfortunate situation is a sobering reminder of that are once again.

BLOCK: I want to listen with you to a bit of video that was posted on YouTube by Kenneth Weishuhn's older sister, Kayla. This was just a few days after her brother killed himself. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE POSTING)

KAYLA WEISHUHN: He was a beautiful person. He really was. He was my best friend. We were each other's best friend. We could talk to each other about anything. He was there for me when I needed him the most. You guys took him away from me. I won't ever understand why, why you had to be so mean to him.

BLOCK: And, Mitch, Kayla Weishuhn there in that video says that it was after her brother came out as gay that he was bullied at school. She says the school didn't do as much as they could and there was cyberbullying too. And within weeks, he had hanged himself. It's an awful, awful story. In your editorial, you say this: We are all to blame, we have not done enough. Talk about what you mean by that.

PUGH: I think what we wanted to say it would be really easy to point fingers at one particular school district or one particular group of kids. But, you know, this is a situation that's been brewing in our schools and in our society for a long time and you can't really single out any one person. I think that all of us need to rethink how we've approached this issue and make some changes.

BLOCK: What kind of response have you gotten since that front page editorial?

PUGH: It's been overwhelmingly positive. And I think for us the challenge now is to figure out ways to partner with local schools, local organizations to make sure that we're doing everything we can to avoid a tragedy like this in the future.

BLOCK: What might some of those partnerships be? What would you want to come from this?

PUGH: You know, that's something we've been doing a lot of thinking about, whether it means, you know, bringing in more speakers and more outside experts. But we also have across the river in South Sioux City, Nebraska, a great organization, the Waitt Institute for the Prevention of Violence that was very involved in the "Bully" documentary. So I think we're going to be sitting down with them soon to see there are ways that we can help get their message out.

BLOCK: You mentioned the Waitt Institute, which I understand has a partnership going back many years with the Sioux City School District. Despite that partnership, though, that film, "Bully," shows horrific abuse and bullying in that district. I mean, it's no easy solution to have these programs that stuff goes on despite your best intentions.

PUGH: I know, clearly and I think that's why this effort. And the point of our editorial was to talk about how all of us need to be involved. One of the things that we did talk about in this editorial was at how many of us have seen an instance of the bullying, or something that was just inappropriate at a school or outside of a school, and not said anything because we didn't think it was our place. I mean, I think it's pretty common.

And we hope that this will bring attention to that, you know, reality, and that people will not feel afraid to say something and to stand up when they see instances of bullying. It's clearly wrong.

BLOCK: Mitch Pugh, thanks very much for talking with us today.

PUGH: Thank you.

BLOCK: Mitch Pugh is editor of the Sioux City Journal. Yesterday, they decided to turn their entire front page over to an editorial about bullying.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.