The death this week of a Robert Smalls Middle School sixth-grader was ruled a suicide Friday, and investigators are working to determine if bullying is to blame.
A preliminary report indicates Celeste Wills, 12, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Wednesday in her Shell Point home, according to Beaufort County Deputy Coroner David Ott. The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office did not find a suicide note, but deputies are investigating whether bullying played a role in Wills' death, Sgt. Robin McIntosh said.
"Right now there's just so many unanswered questions the family still has, and we may never have those answers," said Regina Shockey, who said she has known the family for several years. "But bullying played a large role in her becoming depressed and doing what she did."
Ott, McIntosh and Gregory McCord, chief student services officer for the Beaufort County School District, declined to discuss further details Friday, citing the ongoing investigation. McIntosh said she could not speculate whether bullying was a factor in Wills' death, though close family friends and Facebook posts by family members claim the sixth-grader was the target of teasing at school.
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Her mother, Clarissa Wills, changed her Facebook profile picture Thursday to a pink stop sign with the message "Stop bullying, In Memory of Celeste Wills." By Friday afternoon, dozens of people had followed suit.
Attempts Friday to reach parents Clarissa and Dale Wills were unsuccessful. However, family friend Kyle Warren said they asked him to spread awareness of bullying.
Shockey said she was given a similar message and was frustrated that bullying was not mentioned at a vigil for Wills held Thursday at the school.
"We're outraged and angry that it's still allowed in the schools and the schools aren't stepping up," Shockey said. "It's being swept underneath the rug."
The coroner's office had not released a cause of death at the time of the vigil, which brought about 300 people to the school gymnasium. Principal Denise Smith said Thursday she was not aware if Celeste Wills was being bullied, but said "just where we are in our stage of having such an electronic media, we have to ask ourselves that."
Attempts Friday to reach her were unsuccessful.
Another vigil and candle-lighting ceremony are planned for 8 p.m. Saturday outside the Wills' tattoo shop, Beauty Marks on Savannah Highway, according to family friend Dora Whited.
The Wills have requested friends bring only white candles, according to Whited.
"She was just the epitome of that sweet girl, and she was definitely the clown of the family," Whited said. "She liked to make everyone smile. We want Celeste to be remembered for something other than how she died."
Reporter Sarah Bowman contributed to this report.
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.