Archive for Saturday, February 9, 2008

Victim’s family speaks out against bullying

February 9, 2008

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— The family of a Gardner teenager who died in a fight with a classmate says the victim was bullied for years but had started to stand up for himself.

Dakota DeRemus, who had a heart condition, collapsed Monday after fighting with another 16-year-old boy. Prosecutors have charged the other teen, Dustin Howard, with involuntary manslaughter.

"It started with name-calling," said DeRemus' mother, Angela Meireis, of the bullying that her son endured. "Then they'd smack him in the head in the hallways and knock his books out of his hand."

She said the problems started when her son was a fifth-grader and had stopped taking gym class because of his heart condition.

"He would turn the other cheek and turn the other cheek," Meireis said. "Just recently he was like, 'I'm not taking this anymore.'"

The teen's family held a news conference Thursday to talk about bullying and their feelings about the school's handling of the issue. DeRemus and Howard were sophomores at Gardner Edgerton High School.

Meireis said the bullying of her son did not stop, even after she talked with school officials.

"If someone doesn't do something ... this is going to happen more and more," she said. "And other kids will be in the same position as my little baby is - at the funeral home."

School officials said they can't comment on the situation with DeRemus but that the district has programs that address bullying.

"We have policies in place, and we adhere to them," deputy school superintendent Tim Yoho said. He said counselors and a school resource officer are available to talk to students and that the district addresses parent and student complaints when they arise.

Authorities say DeRemus was hit in the chest, ribs and back during the fatal fight outside his family's Gardner home. The fight started not long after the teen had gotten off the school bus.

Neighbors found the 16-year-old alone on the ground. Authorities say at least four other teens witnessed the fight - one of them even recorded it on his cell phone - but they ran off when DeRemus collapsed.

DeRemus' grandmother made a tearful plea Thursday, asking for the Johnson County district attorney's office to charge those who watched the fight and fled. No others have been charged.

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