Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando sheriff's report says bullying didn't contribute to 12-year-old's suicide

BROOKSVILLE — After 12-year-old Miguel Rodriguez hanged himself in his bedroom in January, Jeanette McCants said her son had been bullied repeatedly at West Hernando Middle School.

But an investigative report released Friday by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office paints a much more complicated picture — one that includes family issues that McCants previously had dismissed.

Detectives found no evidence that bullying played a role in Miguel's death.

"During the investigation, no incidents of bullying were identified that could be considered a contributing factor," Hernando County sheriff's Detective Randy Williamson concluded.

None of Miguel's closest friends indicated he had been bullied, according to the report. One even said he was a "tough guy." And there was no evidence of bullying in his school records, on his cellphone, on his computer or on his Facebook page, the Sheriff's Office said.

In the end, authorities said, they couldn't pin the suicide on any specific cause.

• • •

Miguel took his life on Jan. 23.

The outpouring of sympathy for the seemingly happy but sensitive seventh-grader was immense.

Thousands showed their support through social media. Hundreds attended his memorial service. Dozens more honored him at a candlelight vigil, at fundraisers and by wearing purple, Miguel's favorite color.

They were shocked and deeply saddened. They criticized the Hernando school system and called for something to be done about bullying.

McCants pleaded her case.

She spoke with reporters, before television cameras and in front of groups about her son and about bullying.

"My son was battered," she told the Tampa Bay Times in late January. "And they did nothing for him. Nothing. Nothing. And now he's gone."

She said he had begged to be transferred to a new school. She said they both had complained and filed reports with the school, but it did no good.

"My son got tired of saying things because he came up to me and said, 'Mommy, don't worry about it. It doesn't make a difference. They're only going to do it more,' " she said.

She vowed to fight for her son.

"His name will be known forever," she said. "Something needs to change."

• • •

The Sheriff's Office offered a different perspective after its investigation.

Miguel's teachers all agreed he seemed happy at school. They said they didn't witness any problems between him and other students. One noted that he appeared to have a lot of friends.

Miguel's language arts teacher, Janice Hickey, spoke with him on several occasions.

Sometime between Thanksgiving and winter break, he asked her if he could go to the clinic. He had cut his thumb.

She asked to see the cut; then she asked him why he didn't treat it at home, according to a report written by Shane Landgraff, West Hernando's school resource officer.

Miguel's reaction was strange, Hickey recalled.

She took him aside and asked him how he had cut his thumb. He told her he was sharpening a pencil with a knife at home when the knife slipped.

Since the cut was fairly deep, she asked him why he hadn't gone to the emergency room for stitches.

He said he had to hurry and clean up the blood before his mom could see it.

"He told (Hickey) he did not want (his mom) to know about it and he would be in big trouble," Landgraff wrote in his report.

Hickey asked Miguel if there were problems at home. She had noticed him being more subdued. Noticed that his grades were slipping.

Miguel told her there were problems at home — and they were big, the report says.

She asked Miguel if he was having problems at school that were causing his grades to drop.

"She said Miguel looked her in the eye and said, 'Ms. Hickey, school is my happy place,' " according to the report.

When asked if he wanted to talk about the troubles at home, Miguel said, "No, it wouldn't make a difference anyway."

McCants did not respond to phone calls from the Times seeking comment Friday.

Asked in late January if there were any family issues that might have contributed to the suicide, McCants didn't hesitate.

"No," she said. "We don't have drama in my family."

• • •

While Miguel may have appeared happy to most, there were indications all was not well.

Two weeks before his death, Miguel's mom was helping her son clean his room.

Inside a drawer, she found a folded piece of notebook paper.

"I love you Mommy, David and Aysha," it read, according to the Sheriff's Office, referring to his brother and sister. "I am sorry for killing myself, but I can no longer take the drama."

McCants never questioned her son about the note. She told deputies it didn't seem like her son would harm himself.

She threw it in the trash. She never talked to him about it.

McCants told investigators she didn't say anything because "he was happy and loving, and I did not want to breathe life into the words."

There was one other incident where Miguel hinted at his intentions.

The day before he took his life, Miguel told one of his best friends that he was thinking of hanging himself.

The boy immediately questioned Miguel about it, but Miguel said he was just kidding, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Thinking Miguel was just playing around, the boy did not tell anyone.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said Friday that the school district is finishing its own investigation of the circumstances surrounding Miguel's death, but so far it closely mirrors the Sheriff's Office report.

"Our information is 100 percent consistent with what they've found," he said.

He said the investigation includes student records, as well as interviews with teachers and other students.

Danny Valentine can be reached a [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. Tweet him @HernandoTimes.

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