A family in Birmingham, Ala., is mourning the loss of 9-year-old Madison “Maddie” Whitsett, who took her own life on Friday after reportedly having “a bad day.”
Now her mother, Eugenia Williams, and the girl’s stepfather, Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service Lt. Jimmie Williams, are speaking out about the potentially deadly consequences of bullying, which they believe was the catalyst for their daughter’s suicide. Madison, who was “energetic, funny, and loved dance,” according to her mom, had struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which appeared to make her a target for her peers, who had taken to calling her “stupid” and “dumb,” according to Al.com.
Following multiple incidents, the parents went to Madison’s school to meet with the principal and believed the situation had been defused. “I felt like we took care of it,’’ Jimmie said. But in any bullying situation, things aren’t always what they appear to be. For instance, Eugenia had surprised her daughter with a spontaneous trip to one of her favorite restaurants, Chick-fil-A, on the day she took her own life. The mom saw her daughter running through the house with excitement — but little did she know the child was secretly tormented by the harassment she was enduring.
Williams later found out from one of the girl’s friends that the fourth grader had endured bullying that day and appeared sad. “It must have really worn her out that day,” her stepfather said to Al.com. Madison had also recently been put on a medication that counted suicidal thoughts as one of its side effects. “The bullying plus the medicine, I think, gave her the boost to do that,” Jimmie said.
The parents won’t identify which school Madison attended, because they don’t blame the school and they don’t want to shine an unwanted spotlight on it. Birmingham City Schools, though, released a statement on Tuesday addressing the devastating event:
“Our school community is deeply saddened by the recent passing of a student. Counselors and district-level support staff, trained to help students, parents and school personnel at difficult times such as this, have been on-site at the impacted school today to provide assistance to students and staff in needed of support in processing this tragedy. The death of any young person is a tragic loss that impacts the whole school community, and we send our deepest condolences to the family.”
Research suggests that a peer who is perceived as different — like Madison, whose ADHD required that she get special attention at school — is an easy target. Additionally, “there is often a disconnect between young people’s experience of bullying and what the adults see,” according to StopBullying.gov, an awareness resource managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The site states that 28 percent of U.S. students in grades 6 to 12 have experienced bullying, while 70.6 percent admit to having witnessed it. Only about 20 percent to 30 percent of students who are bullied notify adults. Suicide in a bullying situation is usually the result of multiple risk factors, the site notes.
Madison’s parents want to remind parents to make sure they are checking up on their children and to be vocal with teachers and students about any bullying incidents witnessed. It can happen to anyone, they say.
Meanwhile, Madison — the girl with the big, beaming smile — will be remembered for her happier days and her inner beauty. “She just wanted to be your friend,” said Jimmie. “She wanted to be everybody’s friend and wanted everyone to be happy. We saw that in everything she did.”
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.