One grieving mother is taking on the Cameron School District following the death of her son, who she said was bullied to the point of committing suicide.
Susan Welchel has filed a lawsuit against the district in the wake of the death her son, Lane. She said the boy was someone she admired, remembering times when he would go out of his way to befriend the new kid in class.
“He’s such a sweet, caring, lovable kid … or was; I have a hard time saying was,” Welchel said. “He was a good friend. He was a good kid just overall. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a good, good kid.”
Unfortunately, as he got older and entered Cameron Junior High, that kindness was not returned to Lane, his mother said.
According to Welchel’s lawyer, Chris Dove, Lane began to search deeper into his Jewish heritage over a summer break and was targeted because of his faith.
“Pretty much from the get-go, when he started in the fall, the bullying and harassment started — the jokes about being Jewish, the jokes about the Holocaust,” Dove said.
Welchel made the decision to admit her son into a psychiatric facility, and while Lane was being treated, she went to the school to see what would be done about the situation.
“When I talked to the principal, I said, ‘I don’t want to be in this position again or one worse,” Welchel said.
The Cameron School District declined to talk with the News-Press about the incidents that led to Lane’s death, but in a written statement officials said there are policies in place to investigate bullying.
“As demonstrated by our board policies and practice, the Cameron R-1 School District is steadfastly committed to creating an inclusive culture that reflects the diverse community around us. We work hard to hear, appreciate and respect the thoughts and ideas of all of our students, families and staff.”
Dove said the lawsuit contends these policies were not followed when it came to Lane.
“If you look at them on paper, they have great policies; they have policies that say, ‘Bullying is not permitted; it’s not allowed. If it happens, we’re going to investigate it; we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that,’” Dove said. “So if you apply those policies, then you put a stop to it.”
Swastikas painted on school
Welchel said Lane was brought back to school while he was taking medication and receiving counseling. Things seemed to be going well until April, when the school was graffitied, with swastikas being among the vandalism.
“For whatever reason, the school decided to point their finger at Lane and claimed he had done it or was involved in it somehow,” Dove said.
Lane was suspended when the school searched his locker and found medication, and he was put on what the school called unofficial probation, according to Welchel.
Because the school refused to let Lane come back until he submitted to questioning, Welchel made the decision again to commit her son.
“He never sat in any of his classes again the rest of the year,” Susan said.
Eventually, Lane was questioned and cleared when another student was found responsible, Welchel said.
High school begins
Although he was not permitted to finish eighth grade in the classroom, Lane did begin his freshman year at Cameron High School.
“I said, ‘High school is different. Just try it for me, just try it. If we need to, we’ll find something else,’” Welchel said.
But for Lane, high school only brought more bullying from his peers.
“I think at this point — I have to guess what was going on in Lane’s mind — I think he had seen that over the course of the time that he was in the middle school that reporting repeatedly was not getting results,” Dove said.
In December of 2017, during the holiday break of his freshman year, Lane committed suicide, leaving his family in shock.
“You don’t think that it’s going to be your child. I mean a parent, you can put everything in place to help them get better,” Welchel said. “But if the school doesn’t work with you to try to protect them and help them, it doesn’t matter what you do for your child. They’re in that environment for eight hours a day.”
Welchel has filed a lawsuit against the school district, school board, the middle school principal and the superintendent, saying they did not do enough to protect her son.
Dan Zmijewski, Welchel’s other attorney, said that in these situations, a lawsuit is the only way to find justice.
“You’re going to have to make these teachers, make these schools, make these administrators realize, ‘Look, if you keep acting the way that you’re acting, there’s consequences for that,’” Zmijewski said.
Welchel said she is trying to keep other parents from experiencing the pain her family is now feeling.
“If another child feels the way mine felt every day and committed suicide, and another family feels the way I feel every day, and I had done nothing to try to make it better, I wouldn’t be able to look at myself,” Welchel said.