Erwin Middle School student had tried suicide before his death last week

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 4, 2013

SALISBURY — After an evening homework session at a friend’s house, Daniel Safrit didn’t mention bullying to his mom.

He sure didn’t bring up suicide.

His mother, Jamie, said her 11-year-old had a “bad day” on Sept. 26. His peers at school had excluded him, again, his mom said. She later found out the boys called him slurs in the restroom.

He stuck his head in her room one last time shortly after 9 p.m.

“Love you, see you in the morning,” his mother recalled Daniel saying.

But in the morning he was dead — a new statistic in the county’s suicide rate.

Daniel had a habit of jotting down his last thoughts of the day on bits of loose leaf paper or in a notebook he kept near his bed.

There were no notes Friday morning.

“That night he didn’t write down anything,” his father Scottie Safrit said. “No notes. Not that we found.”

The 11-year-old’s death devastated his family, relatives said. They hope it’s a catalyst for change.

Daniel told his family he was struggling with school bullies, his parents said.

In fact, his mom said the bullying began last year when he was in fifth grade.

“He did have one thing stuck in his head: Bullies always come back,” Jamie said. “That’s what he was dead set on. Just about anything he wrote down or had in his feelings. It’s that bullies always come back.”

Jamie said her son was worried about the move from Rockwell Elementary to Erwin Middle School.

Daniel felt the bullying would continue, she said, or even get worse.

“I told him, ‘Not all of them were going to end up at Erwin,’ ” Jamie said. “But when it started, he said ‘Well momma, it’s not all the same ones. It’s new ones, too.’ There are some from other schools that came to the sixth grade that had started as well.”

After a suicide attempt in early September, Daniel’s parents searched for help before taking him to Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro for treatment.

Daniel spent seven days at the hospital. He was diagnosed with depression, his family said, and put on Celexa.

Relatives said the boy was “up in spirits” after his release.

Still, the relief didn’t last.

Daniel’s parents said they spoke to him about suicide — before and after he was hospitalized.

“That’s not something an 11-year-old should have to worry about or even have in their vocabulary,” Jamie said.

Daniel wasn’t the type to stand up to bullies, his father said, but he wanted them to understand the detriment of bullying.

“With Daniel, his take on it was — when it come to suicide, he felt like him committing suicide, anybody that had bullied him or had been mean to him would be sorry,” Scottie said. “I tried to explain to him, if he did kill himself, ‘Yes, those people might be sorry for a few days but their lives will go on and they’ll forget about it, but Daniel, you’ll be gone.’ ”

Scotty said children often don’t understand what suicide actually means.

“I don’t think kids that age that talk about suicide, I don’t think they realize how final death is,” he said. “Suicide is final. You don’t come back.”

Relatives said they spoke with guidance counselors and school officials on several occasions, but little progress was made toward stopping the bullying.

Family members said school officials have made assertions that the cause of Daniel’s death was due to home life.

One school counselor told the family, according to the Safrits, that school officials “can’t protect every child.”

“For the school to try to brush it off and say it was home — stand up and take responsibility for your part in it,” Scotty said.

In a statement Thursday, Rowan-Salisbury Schools Spokeswoman Rita Foil said the school system was “proud” of the way Daniel’s case was handled.

“We cannot discuss details of Daniel’s case and his school experience out of respect for his confidentiality and the family’s privacy. We offered support to Daniel and his family, including referrals for services and follow up conversations,” Foil wrote. “We are proud of the job our counseling staff did in working with Daniel and raising concerns about his needs. The school staff, including the counseling staff, worked closely with Daniel and are devastated by his loss.

“We never want to minimize any concern about bullying and we will address bullying and mistreatment of our students whenever it occurs. We also will continue to study appropriate policies, training, and other steps we can take to solve this problem.”

Foil declined to let the Post interview Erwin Middle School Principal Rick Vanhoy. The spokeswoman referred the Post to Student Services Director Carol Ann Houpe, but Houpe requested questions via email and did not return a phone call seeking comment.

In a brick church just off N.C. 152 East, mourning friends and family packed the cedar pews of West Park Baptist Church on Monday.

As organist Beverly Sechrist’s fingers finished the final bridge of “Amazing Grace,” few dry eyes were left in the nave.

Assistant Pastor Billy Sechrist lasted seven minutes before pausing to wipe his eyes.

Sechrist said he had never performed a funeral for a member of his youth class before.

“I loved Daniel. I’m going to miss him. He was my friend,” he said.

In the audience were teachers and a handful of teary eyed middle school students. A few school administrators and a couple school board members also turned out for the funeral.

Some students were wearing baby blue Erwin colors. Some had “Daniel Lee Safrit” outlined in red on their arms.

One of the most poignant moments of the service came during a letter Jamie asked Sechrist to read aloud.

Jamie had written the letter to Daniel days earlier in the Greensboro hospital.

“You’re going to grow into a wonderful man,” Sechrist read, choking back tears. “I know you’re going to be a great husband one day cause you’re just like me — you put everyone else before you.”

Sechrist also spoke about the sandy blond haired boy’s love for gymnastics and chorus — and Daniel’s infectious smile.

After the funeral, the Safrits had anti-bullying shirts made prominently feature a trampoline on them.

Daniel’s parents say they hope Daniel’s death spurs a new awareness of school bullying.

The family is planning a candlelight vigil at Tamarac Marina at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Memorials can be made to Powles Funeral Home to assist with funeral expenses: P.O.Box 248, Rockwell, N.C. 28138

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.