Two years ago today, on Sept. 9, 2010, Billy (William) Lucas, a 15-year-old from Greensburg, Ind., was was found dead in a barn at his grandmother’s home. He had hanged himself.
While Billy never self-identified as gay, friends said he was tormented for years because other kids thought he was gay.
Billy took his own life just hours after fellow students told him he didn’t deserve to live.
Ann Lucas said her son Billy talked to her just days before his suicide about being bullied. “He told me ‘Mom, you don’t know what it’s like to walk down the halls of school and be afraid of who’s going to hit you, who’s going to kick you.’”
Billy’s death was the first widely reported teen suicide in September of 2010 — within weeks, America and the world would come to know the names of at least ten more gay, or perceived gay, teens — each who would take their own life to escape the physical and emotional torture inflicted upon them by bullies.
Now, just days before the second anniversary of his death, Billy’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district and four of its employees, claiming that Billy was targeted because of his learning disability, ethnicity and because some classmates thought he was gay.
According to court documents, Billy suffered from emotional and learning disabilities, including ADHD.
“Because of this perception of his sexual orientation, W.L. (Billy Lucas) was subjected to relentless harassment, ridicule and bullying at the school (and other schools in the district) during school hours over a period of several years,” court documents said.
The lawsuit names the Greensburg Community School Corporation as a defendant. Former Greensburg Principal Rodney King and Assistant Principal David Strouse were also named as defendants, along with employees Iris Ramp and Darci Kovacich.
According to the filing, “Ramp and Kovacich witnessed students harassing and bullying W.L. (Lucas) on multiple occasions yet did nothing to prevent or stop it. In fact, Ramp and Kovacich not only ignored the harassment of W.L. (Lucas) by other students at the School, but in some cases encouraged and even actively participated in the harassment of W.L. (Lucas) themselves.”
“Ramp and Kovacich verbally insulted, ridiculed and abused W.L. (Billy) in front of his peers on multiple occasions,” the documents said. “On at least one occasion, Kovacich confined W.L. to a ‘work room’ (closet) for what she considered punishment for alleged misbehavior. These and other affirmative acts by Ramp and Kovacich created or increased the risk of harm to W.L.”
“To the extent the school let him be subjected to this kind of torment is inexcusable. The school violated the law by not taking steps to protect him,” said Tom Blessing of Frazier Law Firm, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lucas’ family.
The news of Billy’s death in 2010 was the catalyst that prompted nationally syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller, both victims of bullying during their youth, to launch the “It Gets Better” project.
Within two months, the “It Gets Better Project” evolved into a worldwide movement, and to-date has inspired more than 30,000 user-created videos and over 40 million views, including messages by President Barack Obama and the First Lady, aimed at providing hope and encouragement to LGBT youth.
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How to find help if you feel suicidal
If you or a young person you care about needs support, call The Trevor Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. It’s free, confidential and available 24/7. Learn more at TheTrevorProject.org.
— National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
— Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: save.org.
— Suicide Prevention Resource Center: www.sprc.org
— Every county operates immediate mental health crisis response services. For information, contact your local county human services agency.