Harlem Boy’s Suicide Puts Spotlight on Bullying

Joel Morales committed suicide last week after months of bullying. (Photo by Jeff Mays/DNAinfo)

A wake has been scheduled for a 12-year-old boy whose suicide last week has left some wondering whether his case was handled properly by school officials and authorities.

DNAinfo reported that Joel Morales’ service will be held tomorrow from 3 to 11 p.m. at the First Spanish Baptist Church on East 116th Street. His funeral is scheduled for Friday, although a spokesperson for City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito said that it may be a private service.

Morales committed suicide last Tuesday after being bullied at school, El Diario La Prensa reported. His mother, Lizbeth Babilonia, reportedly found him hanging from a curtain rod in her apartment after searching for him in the neighborhood with several relatives. Family members said that Morales had repeatedly complained about the harassment he had faced for being smart, short and without a father.

One of Joel’s aunts said that hours before taking his life, he had told a friend that he “was tired of all that bullying.” The aunt added that the bullying had started some months ago and had intensified to such an extent that Joel’s mother was compelled to transfer him from P.S. 102 to P.S. 57. Despite the change in schools, the same students that had bullied him at the old school continued to torment him in the neighborhood.

One incident of harassment at P.S. 102 was so violent that Joel’s family had to file a report with the police. The school’s director also called for a meeting with Joel’s mother, the students involved and their parents.

Morales’ death left his family scrambling to raise the $6,200 necessary for his funeral, DNAinfo reported last Thursday. Morales’ father committed suicide in 2000, when the boy was just four months old, but family members told El Diario that he was never told how his father died. His sister, Richeliss Salazar, said her family had no idea that her younger brother was contemplating suicide.

“I wish we did. We would have stopped it in time,” she said. “I will always remember him as a happy kid.”

Early this week, the same publication reported that several in the neighborhood pitched in more than $6,000 to help with the funeral costs.

Friends, neighbors, classmates, and the Boys and Girls Club Morales participated in have all sent money in to the funeral fund since DNAinfo reported last week that the family was struggling to pay for the services, according to City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who sent out an email to her constituents to help raise money for the family.

Still, in a recent interview with El Diario La Prensa, Babilonia, relatives and neighbors expressed their bewilderment with school officials and authorities. Babilonia said she had persistently tried to get outside help to no avail.

“I did everything I needed to do,” Babilonia said, as she paused to compose herself. “I talked to the school, I reported to the police, and I asked public housing to move me to another apartment. [My son] told me every day, ‘I want to go, mommy.'”

Babilonia claimed she has evidence documenting her efforts and a witness: her caseworker.

When asked by DNAinfo and El Diario to comment on Morales’ case, the Department of Education, along with administrators at P.S. 57 and officials at the New York City Housing Authority, declined. NYCHA officials did say, however, that apartment transfers depend on availability and that it has a program that provides assistance to victims of harassment, domestic violence and witness intimidation.

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