(NEW YORK) — An Indiana family is mourning the loss of a 13-year-old boy who died by suicide on Monday after, his parents say, he endured a barrage of bullying at his middle school.
Now, the school district is hiring outside investigators to probe the allegations.
In a phone interview with ABC News, family members of Terry Badger III described a child who was outgoing, kind and determined to reach the major leagues and play for his favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
“If I had to describe TB3 in one word, it’s a protector,” his uncle, Tony Badger, said. “When he’s on the field he gives 150%, but if one of his teammates is struggling, he’s always there to help them out.”
“He had the biggest heart out of anybody in his family. I guarantee it,” he added.
Terry was eager to interact with anyone he met, regardless of their age, said his father, Terry Badger II, who described a moment at a high school football game where his son approached a group of military recruits.
“Terry walked right up to them and shook all their hands and thanked them for their service, and every one of them broke down crying,” the father said.
But even as he displayed a precocious ability to relate to others, Terry suffered relentless bullying at Covington Middle School, his parents told ABC News.
“He was being made fun of all the time,” his mother, Robyn Badger, said. “[They] put him down, told him he was a loser. Told him he was fat and that he should kill himself. Kids told him he sucked at baseball. Every haircut he had they made fun of.
“Anything that kid did, they made fun of him,” she added.
Terry Badger II said he met with school employees twice about what his son endured, alleging that in the most recent meeting, roughly six months ago, a teacher told him, “There is nothing we can really do because they’re kids and we’re teachers and we can’t control everybody.”
The teacher, reached by email Thursday night, declined to speak with ABC News.
In a statement, Brady Scott, superintendent of the Covington Community School Corporation, said the district “is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of fellow Trojan Terry Badger” and announced an investigation into the claims that Terry was bullied.
“The gravity of this tragic event compels us to move forward immediately with an investigation from a neutral party outside our district. We pledge to be as transparent with the results as the law will allow,” he said.
In follow-up emails with ABC News, Scott did not answer questions about the alleged meetings with school employees but said, “As a school district we work diligently to provide training, guidance and support to our staff and students in bullying detection and prevention.”
“I can assure you that ANY allegation of bullying is taken seriously and investigated,” he wrote.
The Covington Police Department did not respond to requests by ABC News for information about their response to Terry’s death on Monday. A statement released Thursday night by Joshua Whittington, the Fountain County coroner, classified the death as a suicide.
Terry’s death came hours after playing baseball, where he threw a pitch of more than 70 mph, one of many achievements on the field that Tony Badger, his uncle, said Terry was proud of.
“He would come up to me after tournaments and tell me how many home runs he hit,” Tony Badger said about his nephew.
“Even if he had a really bad weekend [playing baseball,] he had a great weekend,” he said.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK] for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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