Her friends were heartbroken when 13-year-old Harley "Kitty" McGuire killed herself at home last week, allegedly after being bullied for months at her middle school. But when they decided to wear T-shirts in her honor, calling for better anti-bullying efforts, the officials at the school told them to stop.
Heather Perry, the superintendent of Regional School Unit 3, which oversees the Mount View Middle School in Thorndike, Maine, confirmed that school staff members have discouraged students from wearing pins and shirts that refer to McGuire, bullying, and suicide, the Portland Morning Sentinel reported. They wanted to avoid "accidental memorializing" of the death, Perry explained.
The homemade shirts were black with the dates of her birth and death, hearts, and phrases like "Her strength ran out" and "stop bullying Mount View" written on them with multicolored fabric paint.
"We shouldn't hide it," 10th grade student Tory Strain, 16, told the Press Herald. "We do not support suicide. We just want to support Kitty." She added that some students are still making hurtful comments about McGuire, more than a week after her death.
Perry also confirmed at least three incidents involving McGuire and other students, but told the Bangor Daily News that they were "teasing" and "it never got to the point of bullying" or harassment. On Monday, she said that officials don't know for sure what prompted the sixth grader to commit suicide.
"We are taking it seriously and conducting an investigation," she told the Morning Sentinel. "We haven't come to any conclusions yet. When we have, we will share that." She said there was no timeline to the investigation.
McGuire's 18-year-old uncle, who was like a brother to her, committed suicide last April, family members said on a memorial Facebook page, making McGuire's death last week even more difficult to cope with. On Monday, family and friends gathered in front of the school, "peacefully protesting the bullying policies, or lack thereof, of Mount View." About 20 people attended the event, holding signs that read messages like: "We don't support suicide, but we do support Kitty. REST EASY," "School should be a safe zone," and "Enough is Enough."
The McGuire family feels that the school is avoiding the issue. "I don't feel like they do anything right now except look the other way," the girl's uncle, Timothy McGuire, told the newspaper. "We felt like we needed this to be public to get any action. It needs to be a public discussion."
His niece was being bullied because she simply wasn't like everyone else, her uncle said. She dyed her hair different colors, wore unusual clothes and accessories, and thought she might be bisexual.
"She was trying to figure out her sexuality," her uncle said. "She was trying to figure out who she was."
Her grandfather, Fred McGuire, who was also her legal guardian, said he overheard her talking with her friends about being bullied, saying that other students "were obnoxious and making slurs toward her." One boy even kicked her in the leg.
"She said, 'Don't call the guidance counselor. It just makes it worse,'" her grandfather told the newspaper. "I think they [the school] should be treating it as a bullying issue."
Perry told the Bangor Daily News that they may never know why McGuire chose to end her life. "It's too early to say for sure, and I don't know if we'll ever be able to say for sure," she said. "We have not completed the investigation." Still, she is committed to helping the family and other students find a way to grieve.
"I think it’s important to allow the family to share their feelings and get this information out. The messages they were sending are very important. They were positive messages,” she told the Bangor Daily News. “We’re all in mourning. The school community is in mourning. We’re all impacted by this.”
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