After his suicide attempt, the bullying didn't stop

Posted at 11:49 PM, May 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-24 07:43:18-04

CINCINNATI -- Something has to change.

How much longer can this go on?

Someone has to do something.

You've probably read or heard comments like these in response to the suicide of 8-year-old Gabriel Taye, a Carson School third-grader who took his own life in January. You might have made one yourself. An event as stunning as the suicide of a young child seems as though it must provoke some kind of shift -- and soon -- in the way schools handle issues such as student mental health.


RELATED: Mother of 8-year-old suicide victim: 'I feel robbed'

John Cook survived his own suicide attempt years ago, but he is still waiting for things to change.

Cook, now 17, was rushed from Clark Montessori School to the hospital at 13 after attempting to take his own life with a handful of his mother's blood pressure pills. At the time, he said, his only thought was of showing the classmates who had bullied him -- over his weight, over his appearance, over a dozen tiny things -- how badly he'd been hurt.

His best friend, Kimera Starnes, said she'd seen some of the warning signs but felt helpless to act.

"I just felt like I couldn't help him when I wanted to," she said.

Cook survived. In the aftermath, he spent time in counseling, leaned strategies to handle bullying, and healed with the support of his family. He returned to school with new coping tools in hand, and his family met with district representatives to discuss the problem.

But he said the abuse he endured from his classmates didn't stop.

"Just because you say it ends in the office doesn't mean it ends in the office," he said.

He said they continued to call him fat and a bed-wetter. They said he smelled bad. They chucked homophobic slurs at him and watched him smart under their words. Weeks before WCPO sat down with Cook's family, a group of his classmates broke the prom prince crown he'd been awarded at a school dance, he said.

His mother, Marci Cook, made another visit to talk to school administrators about the incident.

"They don't see the tears," she said. "They don't see the, ‘I am not hungry,' and you're trying to pry out of them what's wrong, what happened."

Janet Walsh with Cincinnati Public Schools confirmed the Cook family had met several times with officials over the years, and she praised John for speaking publicly about his experience at a recent school board meeting. According to Walsh, school board members were moved by his story and his courage.

That isn't enough, John and his mother said.

"Act on it," John advised teachers. "When you see (bullying) happening or hear about it happening, if a student comes to your office and says, ‘Okay, this is what is happening,' listen to the students."

Because the bullying hasn't stopped, he'll spend his senior year at Shroder High -- away from the classmates who he said had tormented him. His mother said she hopes the move is enough.

"We don't want any more Gabes," said Marci Cook.