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Father of teen who killed self speaks out

Dad of teen who killed self vows to battle bullying in our schools

Posted: November 5, 2008 9:49 p.m.
Updated: November 6, 2008 4:30 a.m.

Jeremiah Lasater, a 14-year-old freshman at Vasquez High School, committed suicide. His father plans a campaign against bullying in schools.

 
Jeremiah Lasater sent a poignant message in the time it took to pull a trigger.

Jeremiah’s dad heard the message and vows to spread it the rest of his life.

“He was saying, ‘Dad, I’m tired of this. This needs to stop,’” said Jeff Lasater, Jeremiah’s father.
Jeremiah didn’t utter those words. His actions spoke for him, Jeff said.

Jeremiah, a 14-year-old freshman, shot himself in a bathroom at Vasquez High School Oct. 20. The single shot that took his life was testimony that the taunts and teasing other students aimed at Jeremiah were too much, his father said.

The teasing dated back to middle school, and school officials said they dealt with the bullying. But Jeff Lasater says they didn’t.

During an Oct. 23 Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District board meeting, Vasquez high employees shared their stories about Jeremiah’s trouble with bullies.

Jeff didn’t see the suffering his son was going through.

“He would come home every day and talk about his day,” Jeff said. “Jeremiah never let on that things weren’t fine.”

Jeff saw his son beginning to blossom. Jeremiah, who stood 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed more than 300 pounds, joined the football team during the summer.

His size made him coveted by coaches who were willing to work with his physical potential and improve his social skills.

“He was really coming out of his shell,” Jeff said.

Then the unthinkable happened. Jeremiah walked into a school bathroom and killed himself.

Jeff doesn’t talk much about that day. “I don’t want to relive it at all,” he said.

But Jeremiah Lasater’s legacy didn’t die in the school bathroom, he said.

Jeff is founding Project 51. The nonprofit organization is designed to stop bullying.

“Bullying is like a cancer. The only way to stop it is to cut it out,” he said.

Project 51 includes a toll-free number for kids or parents to call when they witness bullying. Callers can leave the name and contact information of the school.

Project 51 will ask the school to conduct an internal investigation into the incident. If the school fails to conduct the investigation within 24 hours, Project 51 will send a representative to the school to meet with administrators to plea for an investigation.

If that fails, Project 51 will take its grievance to the school board, Lasater said.
Project 51 also addresses prevention.

“The parents of the bullies often don’t know their kids are the problem,” Jeff said.

He hopes bringing in the parents will make the entire community aware of the problem and bring together all the resources the community can offer.

“Bullying is part of the culture,” Jeff said about the frequency of high school bullying. To change that culture, Project 51 includes teen mentoring, in which  high school seniors are partnered with at-risk kids, who are often targets of bullies.

Mentoring builds bonds between students, and in that environment bullying cannot thrive, he said.
Jeff said his plans are ambitious. “I want a program that all schools will use,” he said. His plan is to start a model program that will spread nationwide.

But Lasater knows it will take more to make it happen.

“I am looking for help from anyone who is committed to stopping bullying,” he said. “When we put our kids on the bus we think our kids are safe. They are going to a war zone. Now it’s time to fix the problem.”

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