Two days before 8-year-old Gabriel Taye ended his life, his classmates wandered around him as he lay motionless on a bathroom floor. They nudged and poked him, a school surveillance video shows, but no one helped until an assistant principal walked in several minutes later.
Gabriel’s parents allege that the Cincinnati school never told them what had happened, but instead said their son had fainted. Carson Elementary School officials argue that the third-grade student never mentioned being hurt by other children and had no visible injuries.
In a legal battle stemming from Gabriel’s suicide, school district administrators contended Wednesday that they are immune from liability because they have no responsibility to eliminate violence between students, Courthouse News Service reported. The comments came in a hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit after the school appealed a lower-court judge’s refusal to dismiss the parents’ wrongful-death lawsuit.
Eric Herzig, who represents the administrators, told the circuit court judges that denying the officials immunity would be “opening up whole new vistas of liability” for other schools and that the lawsuit does not allege bullying as Ohio law defines it, according to Courthouse News Service. The parents’ attorney, Jennifer L. Branch, said the term “aggressive behavior” in the lawsuit is the wording used in the school’s own handbook about bullying.
“These parents had no idea how dangerous his third-grade school was,” Branch said, according to Courthouse News Service. “These parents had no idea what was going on at Carson Elementary School.”
What went on, according to the surveillance video, was that on Jan. 24, 2017, Gabriel walked into a school bathroom, shook hands with another student and fell to the ground. His legs were visible from a camera aimed at the bathroom’s entrance as other students crowded around and stepped over him. Administrators eventually arrived, helped Gabriel stand up and guided him into the hallway.
A Cincinnati homicide detective who watched the surveillance video wrote in an email to the assistant principal, previously obtained by The Washington Post, that a student wearing a red and gray coat punched another student in the stomach and then jumped in the face of a third student in a “menacing manner” immediately before Gabriel walked in.
The boy in the coat appeared to pull Gabriel to the ground while shaking his hand, the detective wrote, and seemed to “celebrate and rejoice in his behavior.” Students pointed, mocked, nudged and kicked Gabriel for five minutes while he was unconscious, Detective Eric Karaguleff said in the email.
“I witnessed behavior that in my belief is bullying and could even rise to the level of criminal assault but due to the apparent age of the children involved my current opinion is it could be better dealt with appropriately at the school level,” Karaguleff wrote.
Gabriel’s mother, Cornelia Reynolds, found her son dead next to his bunk bed two days later.
In their response to the lawsuit, attorneys for the school district wrote that the district did not cause the tragedy of Gabriel’s death. Instead, they wrote, district officials were “attentive and responsive” to Gabriel. They did not ignore a pattern of students bullying him, they said, nor did they do anything that increased the risk of danger to him.
“While we are concerned about the length of time that Gabriel lay motionless and the lack of adult supervision at the scene, when school administrators became aware of the situation, they immediately followed protocol by calling the school nurse to evaluate Gabriel,” the school district previously said of the bathroom incident in a statement.
Gabriel is among a rising number of children and young adults who die by suicide each year. Although suicide by young people was relatively rare for years, it is now the second-most-common cause of death for teenagers and young adults. From 2007 to 2017, government data shows suicides among people ages 10 to 24 increased by 56 percent. And the American Psychological Association reported in 2016 that an average of 33 children ages 5 to 11 die by suicide each year.
The son of a nurse and a mechanical engineer, Gabriel loved to fish with his mother and play games with his father, according to the lawsuit. He sang, danced and played basketball and football. He dreamed of joining the military and once visited Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
Gabriel chose to dress up for school, including wearing neckties, and loved to learn. He excelled academically and avoided conflict, which his teacher said excluded him from being considered a “cool kid” by his peers. His grades started to fall in third grade, the lawsuit says, but his parents had no reason to think their son was suicidal.
Students had targeted Gabriel before, the lawsuit says, but the school did not report those incidents to his parents. Gabriel was hit twice, and there was an incident on the playground after which school records say “proper action” was taken regarding another student involved. Gabriel was subjected to other students’ aggression at least six times in third grade, but the lawsuit says the school either did not tell his parents or withheld important information.
After the alleged attack in the bathroom, the lawsuit says the school nurse told Gabriel’s mother that he had fainted and his vital signs were fine. Reynolds asked her son what had happened at school that day, but he said he only remembered that he fell and hurt his stomach.
When Gabriel vomited twice that night, Reynolds took him to a hospital where doctors diagnosed him with a gastrointestinal issue. She kept him home from school the next day because he was worn out, but she sent him back the following day – a decision she says in the lawsuit that she would not have made if she had known about the restroom incident.
In a bathroom on the day Gabriel returned to school, two boys stole his water bottle and tried to flush it down the toilet, the lawsuit says. Gabriel told his teacher, but she allegedly did not recognize the seriousness of the incident because she did not know about the prior assault. Gabriel killed himself that evening.
“Until she gave birth to Gabe, Cornelia Reynolds had no idea how much love she had to give,” the lawsuit says. “Cornelia misses her only child every day. Her life is empty without her only child, her best friend.”
Gabriel’s father, Benyam Taye, “spends many of his waking hours driving alone,” the lawsuit says. “During these drives, he has flashbacks and sees only Gabe and his smile.”
No criminal charges have been filed in connection with Gabriel’s death, the Associated Press reported. Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco’s office investigated the death twice and added nothing to the original cause of suicide.
– – –
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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