Gay Teen Suicide Victim Was Bullied

Kathryn DeHoyos questions what the responsibility of school administration is when students don’t report being bullied.

Why is it that time and time again we hear heart wrenching stories of teenagers, whether gay or straight, being harassed by their peers and never speaking out? Harassed right under the noses of teachers, coaches, school administration and parents, all adults whose responsibility it is to monitor situations such as these and protect the children and young adults placed in their care.

Josh Pacheco of Fenton, Michigan, was just 17 years old when he committed suicide on November 27. He was a gay teenager who had been subjected to harsh bullying both in and outside of school.  The Gay Voice section at the Huffington Post reports that he had come out to his mother, Lynnette Capehart, just two months before his death. She said:

My son was very funny and exceptionally sensitive and loving to other people’s feelings, He was having problems with bullying. He didn’t really want to tell us very much…it was very disheartening to me.

Sadly, Josh Pacheco is not the first teen to be bullied so harshly that he saw ending his life as the only avenue of escape. There are stories almost every week of teenagers and young adults attempting, and in instances such as this, successfully committing suicide because of bullying and the lack of action by people in positions of authority to stop it. The superintendent of Josh’s High School, Ed Koledo, is quoted as saying:

No bullying had ever been reported to faculty members. We weren’t aware of any specifics. There’s been a lot of stories that have turned up over the weekend that we are looking into.

Although there was never a formal report made about Josh being bullied, it was quite obviously severe enough that he felt taking his own life was the only option. This is sadly another instance where it could be argued that the authorities did not take the initiative to protect a young man who, because of their lack of action, lost his life.

If the bullying Josh faced was enough to drive him to commit suicide how is it that no one noticed?

What are our expectations, as parents and society as a whole when it comes to school involvement and intervention in cases of bullying?

Should schools be required to investigate suspected instances of bullying before a formal complaint is made?

Picture: Purple Penning/Flickr


About Kathryn DeHoyos

Kathryn DeHoyos currently resides on the outskirts of Austin, TX. She has 2 beautiful children, and is very happily un-married to her life partner DJ.


  1. Please stop by and join/check out Josh’s Facebook Fan Page.

  2. Josh was my cousin. He was exceptionally smart and ambitious. He was very sensitive and amazingly kind. We always assumed that he would be internationally known, but for his talents and intellect — not for his suffering.
    The current Michigan anti-bullying laws permit open bullying if based on religious convection. This is horrific, as it leaves every person open to being bullied in the name of God(s). Josh heard and experienced horrible things both in and out of school. People can be loved and not supported. They are not the same thing. His community did not support or accept him, and, sometimes love is just not enough. We forget how hard being a teenager is.

    • @ Heather – Hi there. You say you knew Josh well, so I’ll take it on face value*. It’s a blow in so many ways to have a young person close to you kill themselves.

      People can be loved and not supported. Now that sentence really made an impact.

      I’m a gay man in Europe who has grown up and seen the bullying that can take place. I’ve also been directly involved in anti bullying work in the UK which has cut suicide rates and bullying rates. It seems that there will always be some bullying – there is just a built in factor to some people – genetic!

      I’m concerned about the failure to cut rates in the USA. There is also this issues of it all being about young gay people, making it all about sexuality and not about the person. Did Josh see his coming out as a big issue and life changing? I’m asking for a reason – because I suspect that in the USA the focus in Suicide prevention may need to shift to handling life changes and away from the personal issues.

      You mentioned a religious element – that because religion is protected abuse and bullying disguised or made manifest as people expressing religious views just has to be accepted. I saw and interesting video once of some people using that to preach atheism and because some believe that sexuality is a religious issue to also preach that all people should try same sex activities and that even incest is acceptable. The religious people hearing went bannanas and demanded that it all be stopped. Funny that some demand freedom of religion and speech and yet as soon as their world view is challenged they demand that other people’s rights be stopped or curtailed. The double standard is one that even Jesus is seen to reject in the Bible over an over. Some could do with reading more.


      *Note: It is a terrible thing to have to say, but some Netopaths do masquerade as relatives of people who’s deaths and lives get discussed via social networking. I do assume good faith, as frequently the claims of a relationship and personal knowledge of the person are true. However, I do remain sceptical and will, if necessary make a changed personal position clear and the reasons for it. It’s not said to insult or frighten – just keeping it real.

      • Hello,
        I’m really am Josh’s cousin, and completely understand about taking me at face value.
        I should apologize for my seemingly unsympathetic post yesterday. His parents are working to change the laws in Michigan and have requested help in getting information out there. I posted generic type statements thinking that people would not believe me as family.

        Josh officially came out to his family about two months ago. But, it was obvious from very early on that he was gay. When my daughter was young she often described as a “girl-boy”. He was very sensitive and happy. He was one of the happiest kids I’ve ever met. He LOVED to eat “fabulous foods” until he hit his teen years. But, I digress.

        As for his coming out, I cannot say. I’m the only liberal one in my family, and we had a very different relationship because of that. But, I can say that no one was surprised, or even acted surprised. However, Josh was raised in and around religion in a very religious area. He was spiritual and well versed in the bible. I know that people said terrible things to him in God’s name. And, I fear that he felt like being his true self would doom him to hell. This breaks my heart. I witnessed his faith being questioned, him being called a sinner, and condemned to hell (on facebook).

        Your response is quite interesting, a little sad too. It seems that America is a divided nation on several fronts. Even though we’ve finally legalized same sex marriage in a few states, it seems that other states have become much more backward in their thought process. The conservative party truly has some of the most offensive people in office. The hateful things said about gays and women is scary. Frankly, it’s frightful that these people were even elected to an office.

        I’m going to look up that documentary.

        • Heather. I’ve been looking closer at the whole story of what happened to Josh. It has so many elements it’s hard to see clearly – and of course the internet is just about the worst place to expect clarity. Media like sensation over the mundane and real.

          There is a clear focus on the school with so many speaking of the bullying, but only after it has been too late. I see that the school is reported widely as saying they intend to bring speakers to the school to address bullying and suicide. Well there is none better than Ben Cohen and the StandUp Foundation – Ben on facebook and twitter. Don’t be afraid to make contact with Ben, he’s one of the most genuine guys you could ever meet and communicate with. His championing gay youth is amazing – but so is he. A True Sweetheart. He’s straight Ex-Rugby player who has connection with The Trevor Project…. but then again you probably know all this already. Surfing the net can help to get away for a time?

          There is not much that anyone can do except find ways to stop the same thing happening to other young men like Josh and families like yours. And I see that another Michigan Family, Jarrod Nickell’s, are further down that road which you are all now travelling.

          Obviously, in so many ways the hurt and cuts are still fresh, and there is much going on. Being busy helps, but also leaves things not thought about and words unsaid. They come later when things calm down and people are not so immediately concerned and helpful. That can be a very hard time, that transition from the grief and concern to what comes after.

          From what I understand there are two dads involved here and Josh’s brother Grant. That’s three guys who may find it hard – not necessarily now, but later when it’s quiet and the thinking starts and the words are needing saying. They may not be sure who to say them too, or even who they can say them to. Well, if it helps they can write and say it here – and people will listen and read. It’s not much, but it’s one thing some good men can do. GMP is about a discussion of men and masculinity, the good, the bad and the ugly…. and the painful. We can learn form each other, if we talk and listen.

          I’d like to know how this story pans out and what happens. I know that can be hard and even get blocked because of legal issues and so much more – but I would like to hear.

          I have been riffling my bookmarks and archives for a link to that video I mentioned. It was on video site but the account has not been shut. If I come across it else where on-line, I’ll post a link here and see what I can do to find you on other places.

          • Thank you so much, Mediahound. I’ve copied your post and sent it on to Mike and Lynnie. Their family has started grief counseling, and various support groups. These past two weeks have only gotten harder for them. Reality is setting in, and it’s a bit too much right now. And, unfortunately, the media is all over them. At this point everything is going through the lawyers, but really, they just want to sleep.
            Thanks for your kind words and recommendations. The outpouring of support on all of these websites and blogs is humbling, and very much appreciated. If only Josh realized how big the world is, and how many wonderful people are in it..
            To quote Josh, “Stay Classy”.
            His page is here if you or anyone else is interested in visiting or joining.

            • Heather – as I said in my first post I’ve been around the subject of gay teen suicide for a while. I know the patterns of how people react – how support arrives and then melts away – and I’ve spent many long hours and days just sitting and being with the folks when the three ring circus leaves town. People need to talk at their pace and when they need and no-one knows when it will be. People also have a thing for ice-cream and pickles.

              You also mentioned the “L” word – and how everything has to go through the lawyering process right now. I’m not surprised by that. Having been reading about what has happened I keep detecting the Whiff of Legal Issues in not just what is being said but how. That in itself can be exhausting, because it takes away yet more belief in your fellow man.

              Many people are not familiar with the law, lawyering and The Legal systems. They think it all has something to do with Justice. There is a Goddess of Justice – to the Greeks her name was Dike, and the Romans knew her as Justitia. She has three very important things – She is blindfold because all are equal in sight of the law – she carries a set of scales because justice is balanced and equal for all, rich vs poor, big vs small – and she carries a sword which has two sharp edges to show Reason and Justice can cut both ways.

              Unfortunately, in this modern world Justice and Lawyering got divorced a log time ago. I have to say Justice is still her sweet lovely self, but them lawyers are one bitching bunch when it comes to a divorce, and they are into Disability Discrimination, Sexism and anything else they can find to make Justitia look bad. They bully her and try and pull off her blindfold so that they can insinuate Bias and Prejudice even downright failure to be fair and real. They run away from the scales as if they are all obese and at Eight watchers doing everything possible to not find out just how out of shape they really are – and they keep passing ordinances about arms and weapons so Justitia has to leave her sword at the court room door and outside every meeting.

              I do believe in Justice, and many fear her which is why so many will be doing everything possible to make what has happened appear as something else. Under the constant shifting burdens of lawyers and lawyering many feel despair and give up. That is the modern way. For me it’s not right and I do have total contempt for a certain type of lawyer (Some of my best friends are lawyers, but they kick ass for justice).

              Should people find the pressure too much to manage that’s fine – if people decide to not have things pushed due to lawyering and Justitia being kicked about that is fine too. People have not signed up for a legal marathon, to be made a legal punch bag and football, just as they didn’t sign up to be someone left behind when a loved one committed suicide. In the landscape that comes afterwards we all have our own paths forward, sometime lawyering and fighting through the law helps and for others they simply are not able to cope with what happens there. They close that door and refuse to open it again and for them that is 100% correct, no matter what anyone else says. If the best thing for an individual is to turn away go into a dark room and cry it’s 100% correct.

              I’m not surprised that people want to sleep, and even when they wake up they may well be less tired but it won’t feel refreshed. I’m glad to hear that folks have counselling and support but I also know that only lasts so long. There comes a time when everyone else has gone – it’s quiet – the “what Ifs” turn from a whisper to an orchestra of crickets in the night and no matter what they can’t be silenced. It can be next week, next month or next year but they do drive you mad wondering about so much.

              So many people focus on how to prevent suicide which is great, but no matter what there will be cases of people who simply could not be helped and that is no-one’s fault. Then we need to make sure we look after and help the people left behind, and not just for a week or a month – and not just by bringing a Bundt cake or a tuna casserole using aunt fanny’s famous recipe – we need to be there when the people left behind are wanting and needing what’s best for them. Finding someone who suddenly wants ice-cream with pickles and chilli at 3.00 am is not just the sign of pregnancy, it can just as easily be a guy who is still nursing the grief that replaced the loved one in his life.

              Do keep an eye on the people around you at this time, and hey look after you too! It’s easy to get busy, but it can be hard when you stop. Look after you.

              It’s easy to keep running from them whispers, but they will try to take over one day and you may need to tell folks that you are being followed by a cricket orchestra and wanting ice-cream with pickles and chocolate sauce at 4.30 am. Fine – just let us know. We’re open 24/7 and often look like a classic sleepy diner, The service may be slow, but there is always an open ear and and other pickle lovers about.

  3. [i]It’s a cruel trick of nature that teenagers are deeply sensitive to bullying and enormously adept at it before their brains fully develop the ability to appreciate consequences and feel empathy.[/i]

    I don’t buy it. The key is responsible moral upbringing. Both of my daughters had developed a sense of empathy before they had reached the age of ten.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    If a school is to report bullyiing that hasn’t been reported, it will have a huge number of false positives, although once it’s reported, it’s no longer false, whatever it may have been to start with. Somebody’s going to be in trouble and the records will last forever, never mind any promise to keep them confidential. (See South Carolina’s six-plus million tax returns broadcast.) And it may, probably would be, absolutely innocent. A teacher sees somebody razzing somebody else and the Duty to Report is triggered? ’cause that’s a legal requirement.
    Either the bullying has to be reported to the admin, or the parents, and steps have to be taken. Strenghtening the kid so the stuff rolls off his back would be the preferred path.

  5. wellokaythen says:

    Peer bullying does not cause suicide all by itself. If there’s a suicide after bullying, the suicide is a combination of bullying and depression. If we want to prevent this from happening, we have to work on stopping the bullying and treating depression. Treating depression may even be the more important part, actually. I experienced virtually no bullying in high school and I had some moments of suicidal thoughts.

    Also, I’m not sure what the schools are supposed to do about bullying that happens outside of school. So, on top of trying to teach 35 students per class period and be their parents for 6 hours a day, schools are now responsible for parenting and policing their behavior once they leave school as well? This may be heresy for an educator to say, but a teenager is not primarily a student above all other things.

    If his school is anything like my school was, his peers targeted him precisely because he was vulnerable. Some of them no doubt tried to see if they could get him to kill himself. I don’t believe everyone who says they never intended to drive him to suicide or that they didn’t mean anything by it. It’s a cruel trick of nature that teenagers are deeply sensitive to bullying and enormously adept at it before their brains fully develop the ability to appreciate consequences and feel empathy.

  6. The one thing I am unable to find out is if the School was in anyway ware that Josh was gay and had recently come out of the closet?

    So many have this idea that it is as simple and Bullied = Suicidal or Young Gay Bullied = Suicidal. It’s just far too glib. There is a correlation that is actually far better – Major Life Change = Risk.

    It’s odd that major life changes that have a high negative risk are closely linked to suicide. Major life changes that go wrong are a high risk factor.

    Here I see a Kid who was dealing with a major life change that goes really badly wrong and he kills himself. saying it was due to him being gay and bullied is too glib and too simplistic – and it also does not let the school off the hook. Schools act in Loco Parentis and as such they are obliged to consider risk.

    That is why I wonder why the school is saying we received no reports of bullying but avoiding that simple question did they know he was gay. If they knew they should have been handling risk – and that included risk of bullying – be proactive as asking are you being bullied, and not sitting back as waiting to be told. Is there no Whistle blower option for another student to anonymously let the school know that a gay kid is getting bullied?

    … and before anyone want to take a swipe and say that I’m defending bullies, deflecting attention etc – I’m Queer and I kick ass when it comes to abuse and crime. I’d happily deal with the bullies in the school gym – but I’m sure I would not be allowed to crucify each one in the preferred manner … I’ve worked with anti bullying projects in the UK and oddly rates of teen gay suicide have been cut and are still dropping and have been for 10 years.

    But it’s clear to me that that in the USA where teen bullying and suicide is still such a massive issue strategies that have worked else where may not fit the same scenarios – and what I keep seeing is that re-framing it all as Risk management and not anti homophobia opens up not just one issue but many which seem to be travelling in parallel.

    • Hello,
      Yes, the school was aware that Josh was gay. The school says they were unable to report any bullying activity to his parents because he was out at school. They say that they cannot be responsible for possibly outting him to his family. And, that is understandable. BUT, they could have informed the family without disclosing that he was gay. Even though we’ve always known (or assumed) that he was gay anyway. It was obvious from very early on.
      The school was aware of bullying, as they moved Josh’s locker — without informing his parents. There have been several conflicting messages from the school. But, we know that he was indeed bullied both in and out of school.
      I agree with your statement about him making a serious life change. I fear that religion played a volatile role in Josh’s decision. I think that he often heard he was a sinner and was going to hell, and I’m sure he was conflicted at the thought of being his true self.
      It’s tragic. Josh was exceptional — my absolute favorite. It kills me to know that he felt so completely hopeless. He was kind and compassionate — very sensitive and intelligent. We loved him very, very much.


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