School review: No evidence that boy who died was bullied

Audience at press conference protests; one man forcibly removed

The official investigating the alleged bullying of a Dunaire Elementary School student who hanged himself said Wednesday there is no evidence the child was specifically targeted for bullying.

Retired Fulton Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore said at a press conference that an internal review shows Jaheem Herrera, 11, actively participated in several fights during the school year.

Jaheem, who attended Dunaire Elementary School in Stone Mountain, hanged himself April 16.

His mother, Masika Bermudez, broke down crying 13 minutes into the press conference. Bermudez has insisted her son killed himself after being constantly bullied at Dunaire and that she had complained to school officials several times.

"My conclusion is there is no evidence of bullying at Dunaire," said Moore, whom the school district brought in to oversee an internal review. "There is name-calling and teasing, but it is almost always done outside of any adult [being present]. There is a code of silence among the students."

More than a dozen people showed up to hear the findings at the school district's headquarters on North Decatur Road near Clarkston, and reaction was swift and harsh. One man was forcibly removed from the building after he started shouting, "Shame!"

A friend of Jaheem's family, Monique McMiller, said four of her children attend Dunaire, including her son, whom she said was bullied in March 2008. McMiller said the principal was unresponsive and that the same kids then are causing problems now. McMiller said she was interviewed by Moore for the judge's report, as was her son, who McMiller said broke down in tears during the session.

The judge's conclusion "makes her [Moore] a liar," McMiller said. "To come to a conclusion there's no bullying, to drag that family underneath like that, is embarrassing."

The day after Jaheem died, his mother wrote a note to his teacher, complaining about the constant bullying. Despite the note's April 17 date, Bermudez insists her complaints started much earlier.

Jaheem's teachers said they did not see or hear bullying or harassment directed at the child and that he appeared well-liked by classmates.

The school system's lawyers released the note along with six signed statements by Jaheem's teachers and staff as requested by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Georgia Open Records Act.

Wednesday was the first time DeKalb school officials have spoken in detail about what happened in the months before Jaheem died.

Other families have stepped forward to complain about bullying at Dunaire.

The family's lawyer last week filed an intent to sue the school system for "a substantial amount," alleging negligence by Dunaire school officials.

DeKalb District Attorney Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming has also reached out to Bermudez for an informal review of the case. A spokeswoman for Keyes Fleming said Tuesday that she has not heard back from the family.