Aquan Lewis, a nano-whisper

That’s one version. Oakton Elementary School, Evanston, IL.
Aquan Lewis found around 3pm on Tuesday, February 3, 2009 on the bathroom floor unconscious by a school janitor who administered CPR.  Someone or some others told the janitor they found him hanging in the stall and had lifted him off the hook; those first responders identity never disclosed.  Aquan was taken to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago where he was pronounced dead at 4:05am the next morning, Wednesday, February 4, 2009.  Medical examiner ruled it a suicide.

A teacher had a confrontation with Aquan that day. He told the teacher he was going to kill himself.  The teacher and possibly other informed school staff did not take his threat seriously. No one noticed his absence from class.  There is talk of bullying, other children have complained of it. Every button on Aquan’s shirt was buttoned, something his classmates said he never did. Maybe he did it this once — or someone did it — to assure his shirt would hold taught for the hanging.  Someone thought that through.

Aquan had recently finished his first season of tackle football; all speed and bouncing agility, 80lbs of him made the flyweight squad of Evanston Junior Wildcat Football; he rotated between running back, receiver, corner back and safety. A friend of the family said “He loved to read, play sports and enjoyed school. He was a happy kid.’”  His coach put him on offense after Aquan repeatedly ask to run the football. During the final home game he got his chance. He caught a pass and ran 50 yards before he was tackled near the end zone. His coach quoted by the Chicago Tribune said: “He laid there for a minute. It wasn’t that he was injured, but he was so sad he didn’t score a touchdown. He had the potential not only as a citizen, but as an athlete, he had the potential.”

Lallie Marshall, Aquan’s great-grandmother, told ABC that the family believes he was hoisted onto the hook by a group of boys.

Police corroborated the Cook County medical examiner’s finding that Aquan’s death was a suicide.  Mother and a few neighbors are not buying it. They can’t believe Aquan, given the position of the seat, hook and shirt collar, could have physically pulled-off a self-hanging.  His footprint was found on the toilet seat. That footprint clinched the act of suicide claimed the authorities.

“My son loved life said his mother, he’d never tried to hurt himself.”

I find it difficult to believe a ten year old would take his own life.  A friend of mine who had taught at the school told me Aquan’s family life was seriously troubled. The smoking gun we always look for — a public record search showed his mother Angel Marshall pleaded no contest to cocaine possession in 2003 and was sentenced to community service in 1999 on a handgun charge. The press laid out that info about her as-is without comment. No doubt comments did follow.

“My son loved life said his mother, he’d never tried to hurt himself.”

You need to look at a photograph of Aquan Lewis to suffer an inkling of what deep wrenching suffocating guilt and pain his mother has gone through and still is. The news media featured a frayed creased pocketsize photograph of him, a beautiful, glowing handsome happy looking boy, too innocent, too wholesome to commit suicide.  “Pictures don’t tell the whole story.” That’s what the judge said to Gail, my ex-wife and to me when I showed him pictures of Robin, our daughter, 9 years old laughing and mugging into the camera.  Gail’s parents attempted to get custody of Robin. We were in the judge’s chambers upon his request — to assess us as responsible parents. For evidence I handed him several photographs of her to illustrate what a good time she had with her father.  “ A smiling face isn’t any indication of how much or well she is cared for,” said the judge.” That wasn’t a judge espousing judicial insight.  It was his reasonable reply to my naivety verging on stupidity.

Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, told  “The suicide of a 10-year-old is “very rare” and usually doesn’t happen without clear warning signs, such as very serious symptoms of aggression or just being out of control in some other ways. Suicide at this age is very impulsive and if Aquan had indeed threatened suicide to a school employee, it should have been taken seriously no matter how flippant it may have sounded. We always advise to take every threat seriously. If you’re wrong, big deal. If you’re right you may save a life.”

American Association of Suicidology  – Suicide Among Children

    • In 2005, 270 children ages 10 to 14 completed suicides in the U.S.
    • Suicide rates for those between the ages of 10-14 increased 50% between 1981 and 2005.
    • Although their rates are lower than for Caucasian children, African American children (ages 10-14) showed the largest increase in suicide rates between 1980 and 1995 (233%). In 2004, the rate for African American males ages 10-14 was 0.62 per 100,000 in 2005 (the rate for Caucasian males was 1.92 per 100,000).
    • In the 10 to 14 age group, Caucasian children (ranked 3rd leading cause of death) were far more likely to complete suicide than African American children (ranked 5th leading cause of death). Caucasian males.

“The medical examiner, before the police have ever done the investigation, has concluded suicide … I think it’s reckless, frankly,” said his Aquan’s mother’s attorney.

”If there is someone to blame, I have to take the blame for that because I’m the superintendent of schools,” Superintendent Hardy Murphy told an ABC affiliate.

Neglect allegations have been lodged against the school with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in connection with Aquan’s death, DCFS spokesman Jimmie Whitelow confirmed.

That’s about it. Nothing else to tell. The news media gave it two to three weeks. Apparently Aquan’s family did not contest the verdict of suicide, did not pursue litigation against the school. Whatever ultimately concluded went on under-wraps.

If at several crucial junctures along Aquan’s life-path several right-hearted people and a right-headed coalition gave him tender loving hugs, attention and consul he still might be with us. If you, they, whomever is given the chance of caring for another Aquan Lewis get it right this time. Not to point fingers, we know who we are — now live with it.