CINCINNATI,OH — The Hamilton County coroner wants a full police investigation into whether an 8-year-old boy’s suicide resulted from possible bullying at school and should be ruled a homicide.
Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco said her office will dig deeper into the case based on a surveillance video taken inside Carson School and a police detective’s analysis.
“There’s enough information here that we would like to reopen the case to look at whether we need to amend the death certificate,” Sammarco said Thursday on WLW Radio. “It was very hard for me to believe that an 8-year-old would even know what it means to commit suicide and so I asked Cincinnati police to treat this as a homicide until proven otherwise and investigate it fully.”
Gabriel Taye killed himself at home on Jan. 26, two days after a disturbing incident inside a restroom at the West Price Hill school. Police didn’t file charges, and Cincinnati Public Schools and the Taye family are disputing what the video shows.
A police detective said in an email that the video appears to show one boy picking on Taye and several other kids, according to one of the family’s attorneys.
“Gabe comes in and reaches out to shake his hand and gets pulled to the ground and he lays there unconscious for about 7 1/2 minutes,” family attorney Carla Leader told WCPO on Thursday.
It’s unclear in the video if Taye hit his head on the wall or the floor and if that ultimately knocked him out, Leader said, adding that the video shows other students pointing, laughing and kicking Taye before school staff found him and revived him.
Local TV station WCPO published an edited version of the video on Friday.
Attorney’s also tell the Associated Press Cornelia Reynolds, the boy’s mother, did not learn of the bullying until the attorneys received a copy of a police investigative file that contained an email from a homicide detective to school officials describing the surveillance video.
Cincinnati Public Schools released a statement Thursday with a different account of what happened. The district said there is no video evidence that other students were beating Taye. The district added that it’s not clear if there’s a connection between the school incident and Taye’s suicide.
“While we are concerned about the length of time that (Taye) lay motionless and the lack of adult supervision at the scene, when school administrators became aware of the situation, they immediately followed protocol by calling the school nurse to evaluate (Taye),” the Cincinnati Public Schools statement says. “The school nurse checked (Taye)’s vital signs, which were normal. She also contacted (Taye’s) mother and asked her to pick him up and take him to the hospital to be checked out.
“Though the connection between this incident at school and (Taye’s) suicide are not clear, the district shared this video with police investigators at the time of the incident. Their investigation has concluded and no charges were filed. The video also has been shared with (Taye’s) family’s attorneys.”
“We will continue working to determine all the facts surrounding that incident,” the district says.
Another Taye family attorney, Jennifer Branch, fired back at the district, accusing the district of trying to shift the blame to Taye’s mother and not acknowledging that Taye was attacked.
“It is unfortunate that CPS (the district) chose to blame (Taye’s) mother for not taking him to the hospital after he was injured at school. No one from CPS told (Taye’s) mother that she needed to take him to the hospital. The nurse’s notes verify this. In fact, if his mother had been told that (Taye) was assaulted and was unconscious for over seven minutes on the bathroom floor, she would have taken him to the hospital and not let him return to Carson. It is helpful that CPS did not deny that Carson officials withheld this vital information from (Taye’s) mother.
“As to whether (Taye) was assaulted, we trust the opinion of a Cincinnati Police Detective.”
Branch says that school officials told Taye’s mother that her son had fainted.
Attorneys also told the AP that Reynolds decided herself to pick Gabriel up from school and that she didn’t take him to the hospital until her sister, who was baby-sitting while Reynolds was at work, called to say Gabriel had vomited and was complaining of stomach pains.
Leader, the family’s other attorney, said Gabriel had no history of mental health issues and described him as a happy-go-lucky kid. When his mother asked him what happened at school the day he was bullied, he said he didn’t know, her attorneys said.
“He really didn’t have any recollection of what had happened,” Branch said, adding that the family wants accountability.
“There needs to be a lot more response in that school to what is going on and the parents need to know what’s going on. I think that’s a very big component,” Branch said.
Sammarco, the coroner, said she wants to know more about the incident, too. For now, the coroner said the manner of Taye’s death is suicide, but her team will try to figure out if there were any contributing factors.
“What we are going to try to do is determine what kind of physical findings may be attributed to injuries he sustained,” she said.
“We want to do right by this child … This has been one of the most emotionally draining cases that we’ve had in our office.”
A Cincinnati police news release Thursday acknowledged the department investigated Taye’s death on Jan. 26, but officials there said it would not be appropriate to comment at this time.
Taye’s initial autopsy was thrown out, according to the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office. The initial cause of death was ruled a suicide. The doctor completing the new autopsy is out until next week, and there’s no timeline for the completion of a new investigation.
Resources: Getting help
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). It is a free, 24/7 service that offers support, information, and local resources. You can also click here for additional hotlines within your state.
For more information on suicide prevention, including additional resources and warning signs, you can visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website.
Parents interested in learning more about how to talk to their children about bullying, and how to recognize the signs that their child is being bullied, can visit stopbullying.gov.
PIX11’s Ashley Soley-Cerro and the Associated Press contributed to this report.