Local News

Friday, Oct 01 2010 05:21 PM

Hundreds mourn bullied Tehachapi teen who took his own life

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Taylier Sons, wearing stripes, hugs Julia Stebbins at Seth Walsh's memorial Friday afternoon in Tehachapi's First Baptist Church. They were classmates and friends of Seth, who committed suicide. At left wearing gray is Payton Jones, who was also a classmate of Seth's. They were part of more than 500 people who attended the young boy's memorial Friday.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    "I just wish people would have been nicer to him..." said Shawn Walsh with his older brother, Shane, standing behind him at his brother Seth's memorial service. It is believed Seth Walsh had been bullied the day he committed suicide.

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    By Henry A. Barrios

    A message is written on a vehicle window at Seth Walsh's memorial service in Tehachapi's First Baptist Church.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Friends and family filled Tehachapi's First Baptist Church for Seth Walsh's memorial service Friday.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI, Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

Seth Walsh loved to sing and dance, swim, and perhaps most of all, laugh.

He had big plans. He and his best friend, Jamie Elaine Phillips, were going to travel to France when they were adults.

Jamie will now have to make that trip alone.

Or rather, as Jamie’s father said at Seth’s memorial service Friday, Seth won’t be there physically.

“Jamie, you will see France, and know Seth’s there in spirit,” her father, also named Jamie Phillips, said as he fought back tears.

More than 500 people filled First Baptist Church for the service in Tehachapi, with people sitting and standing in the aisles and all along the back. There was still a line out the door when the service began.

Many who attended were teens saying goodbye to a classmate and friend who took his own life.
Family also spoke about Seth during the service.

Younger brother Shawn Walsh said Seth was the funniest person he knew and the best older brother he could have hoped for.

“I just wish people could have been nicer to him,” the younger brother read to those gathered.
Shawn appeared to be addressing the reports that his brother had been bullied.

Seth encountered a group of teens in a park Sept. 19. The details of what happened between them are unclear.

The teen was found later that day by his family, unconscious after he hanged himself from a tree in their backyard, according to police reports. He died Monday afternoon at Kern Medical Center.

Seth’s grandparents confirmed Thursday that their grandson was gay, and had known he was gay since he was in the third grade. Grandfather Jim Walsh said Seth was not sexually active, but he was homosexual.

Bullying was only briefly mentioned at the service, and Seth’s sexuality not at all. Shane Walsh, another brother of Seth’s, put together a PowerPoint presentation of photographs featuring Seth and family set to music. Sobbing was interspersed with laughter as the crowd looked at photos of Seth, some with him goofing off for the camera.

Pastor Ron Barker read a statement by Seth’s mother, Wendy Walsh, in which she said Seth’s death is spreading awareness for people to treat one another better. She described one instance that seemed to reveal Seth’s sensitivity. He had pulled a flower as an offering for their dog, and then he made an offering to the flowers to make up for taking one of them.

She wrote that the family is learning to grieve and move forward.

Seth’s death came within weeks of the suicides of three other homosexual teenagers across the country who were also bullied or harassed. Media interest has been intense, with “60 Minutes,” MSNBC, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Dr. Phil” calling relatives of the teen, the Tehachapi News reported.

Tehachapi Police Chief Jim Kermode has said an ongoing investigation has determined Seth was bullied for at least the past two years. Bullying itself is not a crime, but police were looking at any underlying crimes that may have occurred with the bullying, such as assault, vandalism or criminal threats, Kermode said.

Richard Swanson, superintendent of the Tehachapi Unified School District, has said the district reviewed Seth’s records and found one incident where he was bullied, the Tehachapi News said. The incident was investigated and the student involved suspended.

Seth had spent years in and out of Tehachapi schools, Swanson said, and he recently was on independent study.

The district’s policy is to investigate any bullying incidents, get as many witnesses as possible, and follow up with steps that can include counseling, suspension or expulsion, Swanson told the Tehachapi News. He said there was mention of bullying when Seth left school earlier in September, but there was no specific incident they could follow up on.

Two teens who attended Jacobsen Middle School with Seth said he never said anything to them about being bullied. Abigail Herrera, 13, and Vivian Najar, 14, described Seth as a funny guy who would talk about a variety of things.

Najar said he always knew how to make her laugh, and said he was “fun, crazy, colorful.” She said she’s been crying on and off the past three days.

Herrera, who’s known Seth since the fourth grade, remembered him as having a sunny disposition.

“He was always smiling,” she said.

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