The mother of a 14-year-old boy who killed himself in April is demanding answers from Huntsville City Schools. Camika Shelby claims her son, Nigel, killed himself because he was bullied for being gay.
Shelby says she was blindsided by the fact that her son was suicidal, but thinks the school knew more than they are letting on. She says she won't let her son's death be swept under the rug.
"I had so many questions that I needed to be answered," Shelby said.
That's why Camika Shelby says she sought legal help, as she tries to come to terms with her 14-year-old son's suicide.
Shelby said when her son, Nigel, died, she tried to get access to his cell phone to find answers. She said school faculty members told her they didn't know his password, but pointed her to a letter in his backpack. It was a note to his mother.
"The fact that they knew that letter was in his backpack, somebody knew that he was planning to do this," Shelby said.
Shelby said in the note, Nigel wrote about trying to be "normal" but it got too difficult, and kids were calling him hurtful names. She said Nigel wrote that he hopes the world isn't so cruel in the afterlife.
Shelby hired the same lawyers who represented Trayvon Martin's family, looking for answers. Benjamin Crump hopes to give them to her.
"We want to investigate and be able to tell Camika Shelby exactly what they told her child when he reported the bullying," Crump said.
Crump and Shelby say if anybody is at fault, it's the school system and the adults. Shelby also claims school employees told her son being gay was a choice. She says one faculty member did not reveal Nigel was having problems until after he died, but she says that was too little, too late.
"I honestly feel from the bottom of my heart, if someone had said something, this could have been prevented," Shelby said.
Shortly after Nigel's suicide, his mother told WAAY 31 her son suffered from depression and he had been openly gay for several years. The legal team says they have informed Huntsville City Schools of their investigation. They do not have a timeline of how long it will last.
After the press conference, Huntsville City Schools spokesperson Keith Ward issued this statement:
We understand that Camika Shelby has retained two attorneys to help her learn more about the events preceding her son’s death. Huntsville City Schools will work with Ms. Shelby and her attorneys to answer questions they may have and to correct any misunderstandings or misinformation, to the extent possible. The effect of Nigel Shelby’s passing is still being felt by the school and district-wide. The administrators and counselors of Huntsville High School had a close relationship with Nigel during his time at the school. They worked with Nigel to ensure that he felt at home at Huntsville High. They were absolutely devastated by Nigel’s passing and tried to do everything in their power to support Ms. Shelby during that difficult time.
As explained at the time of Nigel’s passing, Huntsville City Schools is committed to fostering a culture that is welcoming and inclusive and establishing a learning environment that treats all students with equality and respect. We expect all students to treat each other with courtesy and dignity and to refrain from bullying and harassment. The district addresses bullying and harassment in both our policy manual and code of student conduct (called the Behavioral Learning Guide), with extensive punishments and interventions for the offending student. In fact, the BLG treats bullying and harassment of another student based on an identifying characteristic of that student with heightened disciplinary consequences and interventions. This heightened treatment demonstrates Huntsville City Schools’ commitment to eliminating this type of bullying and harassment in its schools.
Additionally, it has been and continues to be Huntsville City Schools’ practice to partner with organizations who can provide educators with tools to address bullying and harassment in schools. For example, Huntsville City Schools has had a long partnership with the Anti-Defamation League. The district has implemented the Anti-Defamation League’s program “No Place for Hate” in all of its schools for years. In addition to that partnership, Huntsville City Schools has been working with GLSEN Greater Huntsville to incorporate GLSEN’s tools and resources into the district’s trainings for both administrators and faculty.