3 Charged in Bullying Before a Youth’s Suicide, Officials Say
MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) - A New Jersey high school freshman killed himself three weeks after being assaulted, robbed and threatened by other students in March, the authorities said Wednesday as they publicized criminal charges against the youths.
The Morris County prosecutor, Robert A. Bianchi, said the freshman, Lennon Baldwin, 15, was terrorized by two students and pressured at one point to tell Morristown High School officials that he had not been assaulted, but was merely the victim of a prank.
"This case again underscores our need as a society to eradicate the bullying of our youth, as regrettable consequences such as this case are far too numerous to be anywhere near acceptable," Mr. Bianchi said.
The names of two of the students were not released because they are juveniles. A third Morristown High School student, Michael Conway, 19, was accused of lying to the authorities. Officials said he was expected to post $1,500 bail on Wednesday night but did not say whether he had retained a lawyer.
Lennon killed himself on March 28 at his home. Officials did not release a specific cause of death.
Mr. Bianchi said one of the juveniles assaulted Lennon at school on March 6, then pressured him to tell school officials that it had been a prank. School officials suspended the student anyway.
Mr. Bianchi said the suspended student, the other juvenile and Mr. Conway confronted Lennon in a parking lot three days later and robbed him of cash, allegedly in retaliation for the first student’s suspension.
The two juveniles were charged in March, about a week before Lennon’s death, with robbery, theft, conspiracy and making terroristic threats, and they are under house arrest. On Wednesday, both juveniles were also charged with obstruction.
Mr. Bianchi declined to say whether the juveniles had contacted Lennon after they were charged.
The charges were announced the same day that a former Rutgers University student, Dharun Ravi, appeared in court in New Brunswick before starting his jail sentence in a webcam spying case. The target of Mr. Ravi’s spying, his roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped off the George Washington Bridge to his death a few days after the September 2010 episode.
Mr. Clementi’s death sped the passage of legislation that requires schools in New Jersey to develop anti-harassment programs and to review how bullying is handled and reported to law enforcement.
Mr. Bianchi said the charges against the Morristown students fit the definition of bullying in the legislation.
"In this particular circumstance we have an individual who was assaulted at school, and that fits the bullying statute," he said. "Then he was pressured to go to the administration, which we would consider a continuing act of bullying behavior."
Several students leaving Morristown High School as school ended on Wednesday afternoon said they were aware of Lennon’s suicide but had been told not to speak publicly about the case.
Michael Misdary, a senior, said that any students charged should be punished accordingly, but that he did not see bullying as a major problem at the school.
He said students had been deeply upset by Lennon’s death and had organized to send condolences to his family.