Woodland after Sam Denham's suicide: What's being done about bullying?

Woodland students, parents describe bullying

CINCINNATI - Remember the movie "Mean Girls" a few years ago? It was a comedy, but there's nothing funny in real life about being teased, harassed and bullied in school.

A lot of people say "kids will be kids," as if there's nothing you can do about it. But see what life is like for the victims at one Tri-State school, and see if you think enough is being done to protect kids.

Shouldn't school be a place where your child feels safe?

Woodland Middle School in Covington is the school where friends and his parents say, 13-year-old Sam Denham was bullied until he couldn't take it anymore.

Tamera Carmack is a Woodland parent.

"I heard many kids were bullying Sam. A lot of boys. He was a target. Left alone in the lunchroom at a table by himself. Someone would pour milk on him," said Carmack.

Student Zoe Chin says, "People called him gay, faggot, smart aleck.  They made fun of how he walked, and he walked like anybody. They called him nerd, dork, they pushed him, and knocked his books down." 

Zoe had planned to go to the mall with Sam on Oct. 15, but on Friday the 14th, he shot and killed himself.

"I got a phone call and didn't believe it. Looked on Facebook and it said 'Rest in Peace, Sam.'"

Zoe met Sam through what must have been a welcome act of kindness.

"How did you two get to be friends?" I asked.

"The beginning of the year. [I asked] you want to sit with us at lunch? We talked every day after that," she says.

Madi Toms was also a good friend of Sam's. Like Zoe, she wears a necklace with his picture. Madi says Sam was funny, smart, brave and liked to talk.

But Madi left Woodland last year for another school, because the bullies targeted her too.

"When you were being bullied, what was that like? How did it make you feel?" I asked.

"It made me want to cry. I told my mom, 'Come pick me up, I can't deal with this anymore.' "

Madi's mother moved so her daughter could get away from Woodland. Madi now goes to Twenhofel, where she feels safe.

But the question is, what's being done at Woodland in the wake of Sam's death, to protect other kids? I asked Kenton County Superintendent of Schools Terri Cox-Cruey.

"We've done a lot, but since this fall we made sure every one of our schools are following same procedures and protocols," said Cox-Cruey

"I've talked with parents who say their children are afraid to go to the lunchroom. Is that acceptable?" I asked.

"I don't think it's acceptable, have not received any concerns like that," said Cox-Cruey.

When asked if the school had done as much as it should have to protect Sam, Cox-Cruey responded, "I do. I think they thought they were doing everything. They weren't alerted there was an issue with Sam. No warning."

"How was school?" I asked.


Carmack serves on the bullying committee formed after Sam's death.

"What is your perception that the school has done since Sam's death," I asked. "Nothing," she replied.

The school held an anti-bullying presentation in January, and another in December, but both were held at night, when only a handful of parents and a few students attended.

"Do you think there is bullying at woodland middle school?" I asked.

"I think there are probably pieces of bullying everywhere," responded Cox-Cruey.

A month after Sam's death, the Kentucky Center for School Safety surveyed students, teachers and parents. The survey found that 75 percent of students say bullying is a problem at Woodland.

 "How can they not see it? Why are they not looking for it?" asks Carmack.

Meanwhile, Zoe approaches every school day with dread.

"They call me fat, ugly make fun of how I talk... they make fun of my nose, my race... they make fun, my mom's white, dad's Chinese, they say that's weird," says Zoe.

"You're so pretty. Why do they pick on you?" I asked.

"I feel I'm an easy target. I don't have lots of self-esteem if not any."

And where are the teachers?

"The teachers at Woodland have favorites and those favorites don't get in trouble. It doesn't stop," said Zoe.

When you're 13 or 14, how do you make it stop? Madi transferred to another school.

"I can't deal with the same kids another four years."

Zoe will go to a catholic school next year. And Sam found his own way out.

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