Anti-bullying task force formed after Beaufort County 6th-grader's suicide

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJune 16, 2014 

A photograph of Celeste Wills hangs on the wall at the Robert Smalls Middle School gymnasium during her vigil on May 1, 2014.

THEOPHIL SYSLO — Staff photo

  • REPORTING BULLYING


    The Beaufort County School District has an anti-bullying hotline and an email where students can send anonymous messages to report bullying: 843-322-2435, 866-611-1102 or bcsdbullyinghotline@beaufort.k12.sc.us

  • SIGNS OF BULLYING

    Here are some of the warning signs that a child might be bullied:

  • Unexplainable injuries

  • A decline in grades or loss of interest in school

  • Cutting class

  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry

  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches; feeling sick or faking illness

  • Changes in eating habits, such as suddenly skipping meals or binge eating

  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares

  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations

  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem

  • Self-destructive behaviors, such as running away from home, harming themselves or talking about suicide

  • Sources: Lt. Alfredo Givens, who oversees all Beaufort County Sheriff's Office school resource officers; and stopbullying.gov

Beaufort County's legislators approved the creation of an anti-bullying task force Monday, about six weeks after a Robert Smalls Middle School sixth-grader's suicide.

Parents and friends of 12-year-old Celeste Wills say bullying played a role in her death April 30.

"We would like to start an anti-bullying task force; someone needs to do something about it, and that is us," Clarissa Wills, Celeste Wills' mother, said Monday during a meeting of the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation. "We are speaking on behalf of other parents in the Beaufort County School District so that we can save other children."

Proposed by state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, the task force will have more than 20 members. Local members will include school officials, law enforcement officers, parents and town representatives. Representatives of various state agencies, such as education, mental health, child services and the Attorney General's Office, will make presentations to the task force.

"To have all of these different stakeholders in one room, I don't know if we've had that possibility to do that before," Erickson said. "I think it is so important right now to have these conversations at this juncture, after something that could have been related to bullying and possibly culminated in suicide."

The task force will conduct research and gather public comments. Erickson said she plans to hold six meetings before the end of the year.

The task force will first examine state law and policies, and it will recommend ways to fill gaps without duplicating services, Erickson said. That could include suggestions for new laws or ways to amend the current ones.

Its work will be presented to the delegation and to appropriate local groups, Erickson said.

"After watching over the years, this issue of bullying hasn't gone away, and I wouldn't even say it has subsided," she said. "If anything, I would even say it has grown, so I just want to make sure we are hitting the right buttons."

As to Wills' death, and what role, if any, bullying played in it, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office says its investigation continues. Sgt. Robin McIntosh said Monday the agency is awaiting the results of a forensic analysis of Wills' electronic devices.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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