Sheriff's Office: Examination of Wills' death should be finished by week's end

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMay 6, 2014 

An investigation into the apparent suicide of a Robert Smalls Middle School sixth-grader is likely to be finished by the end of the week, according to Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner.

Until then, he doesn't plan to say much about what role, if any, bullying might have played in the death of Celeste Wills, a 12-year-old Shell Point resident who died April 30.

However, an online blog that her mother discovered after Wills' death suggests a child who had struggled with bullying and suicidal thoughts for some time.

The blog on the social network Tumblr was written under the name "dontmesswithtacos," but friends and family say Wills was its author. It was started last October and was often used to offer support and answer questions for those who were depressed or bullied. The "about" section of her blog offers suicide hotline numbers for many countries.

"If you have a problem I'm always here, and there's a link to the National Suicide Hotlines on my wall.," Wills said in one post. "No one deserves to feel pain!"

In recent weeks, however, some of Wills' posts began to turn dark.

She said she was being bullied and thinking of suicide.

"I don't think I can do this anymore," she said in a post dated April 20.

A preliminary autopsy report Friday indicated she died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Wills' body was discovered by family members at about 3:30 p.m. April 30 in the master bedroom of their home, according to a heavily redacted Sheriff's Office report obtained Tuesday by The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet.

Wills' parents, Dale and Clarissa Wills, were present when law enforcement arrived, according to the report. Officers escorted them from the room where their daughter was found. No signs of forced entry were found after an initial sweep, according to the report.

Sheriff's Office officials have said they did not find a suicide note.

The report did not indicate how Celeste Wills got the gun she used to kill herself or who it belonged to. Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh declined Tuesday to provide that information.

McIntosh and Tanner also declined to comment on whether bullying was a factor in Wills' death, or what other possible causes are being investigated.

The Beaufort County School District is not conducting its own separate investigation, according to spokesman Jim Foster.

"We are giving complete cooperation to the Sheriff's Office," he said. "But the fact that we are cooperating does not mean that we are not gathering material and information on our own and sharing it with the law enforcement."

Foster would not say if Robert Smalls Middle School officials had any record of Wills being bullied or if she or her parents had expressed complaints or concerns to the school. He said that information would be provided to the Sheriff's Office.

Principal Denise Smith said last week that there was no indication Celeste Wills "was anything other than a well-adjusted and happy girl." She would not comment directly about knowledge of bullying.

The school held a vigil Thursday night that acknowledged neither bullying, nor suicide. Foster said the investigation was just beginning at that time and there was no conclusive evidence to indicate bullying was a contributing factor.

However, friends of the Wills family and Celeste Wills' classmates said they were aware that she was bullied.

All declined to say how she was bullied or what the bullying was about. Several students -- whose parents asked their names not be used -- said they witnessed Celeste Wills being teased or that she had things thrown at her on several occasions.

One student said that Celeste Wills frequently stood up for peers who were being teased or bullied, but that few would stand up for her and offer support when she was the target.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah. Follow reporter Laura Oberle on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

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