The torment, according to Lisa Ford-Berry, lasted less than a month from the start of her younger son's junior year at Mira Loma High School.
She said a fellow student learned that Michael Joseph Berry was a virgin. Through e-mails and text messages, the boy spread rumors that Michael was gay, Ford-Berry said.
On Sept. 15, 2008, the day of Michael's 17th birthday, he put a gun to his head and shot himself in the school's bathroom. He died the next day in a hospital.
Her son's suicide turned Carmichael resident and former corporate executive Ford-Berry into an advocate for parents whose children are bullied in school. A few weeks ago, she founded a nonprofit organization, Bullies Really Are Violating Everyone.
Little did she expect that her campaign would coincide with the recent national spotlight on bullying, spurred by high-profile teen suicides this year that in some cases resulted in criminal prosecutions of the bullies.
Melody Barnes, President Barack Obama's domestic policy adviser, called bullying a "widespread phenomenon" in a news conference last month when the U.S. Department of Education issued a letter to the nation's school districts and colleges.
The letter advises how certain bullying behavior may violate students' civil rights under federal anti-discrimination laws – if the harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability.
Some experts and educators question whether bullying has escalated to an epidemic level or is only perceived to be a serious problem because of technology and the heightened awareness it generates.
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