A 9-year-old Colorado boy who died by suicide last week had been bullied at school after announcing over the summer that he was gay and expressing his desire to share the news with his classmates, his mother said.
“I could just imagine what they said to him,” mom Leia Pierce said of her son, Jamel Myles, who died four days after the start of classes at Joe Shoemaker School in Denver, according to local TV station KDVR. “My son told my oldest daughter the kids at school told him to kill himself.”
“I’m just sad he didn’t come to me,” she told the outlet.
Jamel died at a hospital after paramedics responded to a “medical incident” at the family’s home on Thursday, Denver police said in a statement to PEOPLE.
A medical examiner ruled his death to be suicide, and police said they were continuing to investigate the circumstances, “which appear to be non-criminal at this time.”
“My child died because of bullying. My baby killed himself,” Pierce told The Denver Post. “He didn’t deserve this. He wanted to make everybody happy even when he wasn’t. I want him back so bad.”
The school district is investigating the mother’s allegation, according to a statement from Denver Public Schools spokesman Will Jones.
“Our priority right now is to look at all the concerns raised in this case, to keep all our students safe and to do a fair and thorough review of the facts surrounding this tragic loss,” Jones said in an email to The Washington Post.
A separate statement, emailed to PEOPLE from district spokesman Jessie Smiley, said: “At DPS, we are deeply committed to ensuring that all members of our school community are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or transgender status. It is critical that our students receive all the supports they need to learn and thrive in a safe and welcoming environment.”
“Our policies and practices reflect this commitment to ensuring that out LGBTQ+ students can pursue their education with dignity and joy — from training to prevent and stop bullying to policies and guidance materials that fully respect gender identity,” Smiley wrote.
Pierce said her son told her over the summer that he was gay while they were together in her car and he was riding in the back seat.
“He was like, ‘Mom I’m gay,’ ” she said, reports KDVR. “And I thought he was playing, so I looked back because I was driving, and he was all curled up, so scared. And I said, ‘I still love you.’ ”
“And he goes, ‘Can I be honest with you?’ ” she recalled. “And I was like, ‘Sure,’ and he’s like, ‘I know you buy me boy stuff because I’m a boy, but I’d rather dress like a girl.’ ”
The revelation apparently freed Jamel to share the information with others, his mom said: “He went to school and said he was gonna tell people he’s gay because he’s proud of himself.”
Jamel started his fourth-grade classes on Aug. 20. “Four days is all it took at school” before he took his own life, said Pierce, whom PEOPLE could not independently reach.
“I’m so upset that he thought that was his option,” she said.
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Pierce did not identify any alleged bully by name, and the school district in its statement did not acknowledge whether it was aware that any bullying took place.
But Pierce told KDVR she wants to raise awareness about the effects that bullying can have on others.
“We should have accountability for bullying,” she said. “Because the child knows it’s wrong. The child wouldn’t want someone to do it to them. I think the parent should be held [accountable], because obviously the parents are either teaching them to be like that or they’re treating them like that.”
Policies in place at the school district are meant to ensure that LGBTQ students “can pursue their education with dignity and joy — from training to prevent and stop bullying to policies and guidance materials that fully respect gender identity,” according to the district’s statement to PEOPLE.
“We also know, however, that we as a society have a long way to go to ensure that no child ever is bullied or treated with disrespect because of their self-identification. All of us — parents, educators, and fellow students — need to lead the way in setting an example of love, respect and dignity for our LGBTQ+ youth,” the statement said.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to Jamel Myles’ and the entire Shoemaker community. We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss,” it said, adding:
“As we mourn Jamel’s passing, let us all come together to celebrate the light that Jamel brought into the world and ensure that all of Jamel’s friends and peers throughout our community continue to shine their lights brightly.”
A GoFundMe page has been created to assist the boy’s family.
“When you speak of Jamel speak with the same compassion he had,” wrote the campaign’s organizer, Jacque Miller, whose connection to the family was not immediately apparent. (PEOPLE has reached out to Miller.) “He wanted everyone to feel loved cause his mommy taught all her kids we are all the same and Jamel treated people as equals because he was taught love.
“Jamel is going to make this change happen, even though he is no longer with us.”
Suicide Prevention: What to Know
Experts say some common warning signs of suicide include discussing a desire to die or feeling anxious or hopeless, like a burden, or trapped or in pain; withdrawing from others; extreme mood swings, including anger and recklessness; and abnormal sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little).
Many suicides have multiple causes and are not triggered by one event, according to experts, who underline that suicidal crises can be overcome with help. Where mental illness is a factor, it can be treated.
Reaching out to those in need is a simple and effective preventative measure, experts say.
If you or someone you know is showing warning signs of suicide, consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, texting the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or seeking help from a professional.