Ten-year-old Ashlynn Conner was described as a "happy go lucky" fifth grader who was always smiling and thinking of others. But, last Friday, she was found dead of an apparent suicide, just a day after complaining to her mother of being bullied by classmates and asking to be home-schooled. Here, a brief guide to her "tragic... gut-wrenching" death:
Who was Ashlynn Conner?
She was one of 23 fifth-graders at Ridge Farm Elementary in Ridge Farm, Ill., a small town (pop. 900) surrounded by corn and soybean fields. An honor roll student, Ashlyn was described by a neighbor as a "good-natured girl." She hoped to be a veterinarian.
How did she die?
Last Friday, her sister found her unconscious and hanging by a knitted scarf in her closet, dead from an apparent suicide. The day before, Ashlynn had come from school in tears after being teased by some girls at school, a pattern that had apparently intensified in the last two weeks, leading Ashlynn to ask to be home-schooled. Her mom told her daughter that she would meet with the school principal to discuss the matter on Monday.
How was she bullied?
Ashlynn had suffered through classmates calling her "fat and ugly" and a "slut" (a term unfamiliar to her; she asked her mother to explain it). Ashlynn's 19-year-old cousin, Heidi Paree, says the bullying began years ago, recalling an incident in which Ashlynn got a short haircut around the time that youth-football cheerleading trials were held. "They said she looked like a boy, 'Who's that boy over there?' That kind of thing," Paree recalls. "It really upset her." The local sheriff is investigating the role of bullying in Ashlynn's suicide and questioning students believed to have been involved in the bullying.
How can parents find out if their child is being bullied?
"If you notice a change in your child's behavior — such as moodiness, trouble sleeping, or a drop in grades — think of bullying as a possible cause," says Dr. Peter Raffalli, a Children's Hospital Boston neurologist. Ask children about both bullying and cyber-bullying. Become involved in your kids' online life from early age — before middle school — so that they get used to being monitored from an early age. If you suspect your child is being bullied, involve the school. "Make sure the school assigns a 'safe adult' for your child, someone confidential they can turn to — and make sure you know what the school is doing to keep your child safe."