SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Bedford County community is pleading for bullying to stop after a 12-year-old boy took his own life Sunday.
Eli Fritchley was a seventh-grader at Cascades Middle school where he played the trombone in the marching band. His parents describe him as a peaceful soul who wasn’t afraid to be himself.
“He didn’t care, or at least we thought he didn’t care, and that’s what’s really difficult for us because we thought he didn’t care,” his parents said as they teared up.
Eli painted his nails, loved the color pink and wore the same SpongeBob sweatshirt nearly every day.
“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon,” his mom Debbey explained, saying he loved doing the laundry and cleaned his clothes every day.
There was no doubt Eli was one of a kind and that was often not accepted by his peers.
“He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to Hell. They told him that quite often,” said Debbey.
His parents heard his cries but didn’t realize the weight he carried in his heart.
“It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt,” said his father Steve.
Eli’s parents say he never blamed anyone and would instead shine compassion and innocence from his gentle soul.
“This has just blindsided us. This is something we would have never, ever expected.”
Eli’s mother made the tragic discovery Sunday night in his bedroom.
“That’s been really hard. That image was terrible until we got to hold him yesterday. Now that image is gone, because the only thing we could think of yesterday when we were kissing and loving on him was how angelic he looked. He absolutely looked angelic. He’s just an angel,” she cried.
An angel she says was loved more than he realized, yet failed by everyone in his circle.
“We all failed him. We all failed him. It’s as simple as that.”
Now the Fritchleys have a new mission, pleading to stop bullying with hopes that no other child or parent goes through their same heartache.
“I honestly think education, education, education for everyone where bullying is concerned because it is a problem, not just in Bedford County. It’s a problem everywhere.”
The Fritchleys were regulars at Penalties Sports Bar & Grill in Shelbyville. The owners of the restaurant, Rob and Shondelle Lewis, say they are like family and they are heartbroken over the loss of Eli. In an effort to help, they created a Gofundme as the Fritchleys are looking to start a foundation to bring awareness and help educate people about bullying and suicide awareness.
“I hope and pray, this unfortunate event we are going to make something of it. We’ve got to. We are going to come up with some sort of antibullying program through this Gofundme page where I pray to God this will not happen again,” said Rob.
Since posting on social media, the Lewis’ say they have been flooded with messages of people impacted by bullying in their community.
“This is a growing area and I think people need to be more accepting of new people, rather they like them, rather they are the same as them, everybody’s different. Accept them and respect them and parents need to focus on that with their kids more,” said Shondelle.
Eli leaves behind five brothers. The family is holding a celebration of life Saturday. Everyone is encouraged to wear bright colors in his honor. An anonymous donor gave $5,000 for funeral expenses.
The Communications Coordinator for Bedford County Schools released the below statement to News 2:
Cascade Middle School staff and students returning to school from Thanksgiving break received tragic news about a student suicide that occurred on Sunday night, November 28.
“We are absolutely shocked and devastated by this news,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tammy Garrett. “Anytime someone takes his or her life, especially a child, it is nearly unbearable. Our hearts go out to his parents and family as they deal with this terrible loss.”
School counselors and other support teams were immediately put in place at CMS with counselors brought in from other schools in the system to help.
Garrett stated the school system and community, including this child’s family, will be looking into further efforts to support social and emotional learning in the schools, especially stepping up support programs at the middle and high school levels.
“Raising caring, kind, resilient children is all of our jobs, and parents are not alone. At Bedford County Schools we strive to provide positive learning environments with positive affirmations for all children, every day. What’s best for our students is what is best for BCS,” commented Garrett.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a prevention network of 161 crisis centers that provides a 24/7, toll-free hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. If you need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 or dial 988.