In February, 2015, thirteen year-old Duluth native, Tristan Seehus, fatally shot himself with a gun.
Seehus went to a school where bullying allegedly occurred. A little more than a year before Tristan died, his father posted on Facebook that he was proud of Tristan for standing up to and fighting a schoolmate, who, he said, had been bullying a friend of Tristan’s. Yet a commenter to the November, 2013 post wondered, “why doesn’t [Tristan] stick up for me when that ‘one friend’ that he stuck up for bullies me?”
When a child dies by his own hand it is natural to look hard for causative factors. Did Tristan die from his apparent easy access to a gun? Did he die from the pervasive cruelty of children perpetrated against other children, against people perceived of as “different,” and therefore somehow threatening? Did he die from a school that knew of bullying and did not take sufficient steps to stop it? Did Tristan die from a mental illness that overtook his will, overwhelmed his mind, and put him in so much pain that suicide seemed the only answer?
As hungry as we are for answers in such as awful case, can all the possible factors be parsed with clarity sufficient for a court of law? Well-known victims’ rights lawyer, Lori Peterson, “The Law Dog,” has brought a lawsuit on behalf of Todd Seehus, Tristan’s father, seeking to hold the school district and school district officials liable for Tristan’s death. Some readers may hail this as an effort to hold schools accountable for bullying that takes place on their watch, while others may condemn the effort as misdirected grief, finger-pointing, or misplaced guilt. Deeply cynical readers may sense opportunism.
If discovery in this case goes forward, attitudes and beliefs we may be inclined to project on such an emotionally charged event may give way to facts and circumstances that can help us make the lives of children less traumatic. Stay tuned….