After Tin’s suicide, a New Jersey community struggles with bullying

After Tin’s suicide, a New Jersey community struggles with bullying

Adriana Cooch. (via Michael Kuch via The New York Times)

Fourteen-year-old Adriana Kuch told her father she couldn’t stand the humiliation after being attacked by another girl inside her New Jersey high school and posting a clip of the attack on TikTok.

“She said, ‘I don’t want to be the girl who gets beat up and makes fun of the video,’ ” Adriana’s father, Michael Couch, recalled of his daughter as they sat in the kitchen of their home in Bayville.

“Can you imagine walking through school with that face?” he asked.

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The day after the Feb. 1 attack, Adriana went back to her room around 10 p.m. and killed herself that night, he said.

The attack, which her father blamed on the school district for mismanagement, and Adriana’s suicide reverberated through Ocean County communities near the Jersey Shore and across the state. Public grief and outrage have led officials to grapple anew with school bullying, how it affects children and the response — or lack thereof — by administrators.

In recent days, students have protested in front of Adriana’s high school, the Central Regional School District’s superintendent has resigned and four girls have been criminally charged with assault.

“Certainly there is a lot of rightful pain and emotion from her family, friends and our community over Adriana’s death,” Berkeley Township Mayor Carmen Amato said in an email.

School board members did not respond to requests for comment, and the voicemail box in the superintendent’s office was full. In a message on its website, the district said it has contacted the state Department of Education and will conduct an independent evaluation of its anti-bullying policies to ensure student safety. “We are all praying for families and loved ones and our entire community,” the message said.

It was unclear what the motive was for the attack before 11 a.m. Wednesday, but a video recording of the incident showed it was clearly planned. In the video, Adriana, with long, light brown hair, walks down a school hallway next to a locker, smiling and chatting with a male friend. Another girl comes up from behind and places what appears to be a water bottle in Adriana’s mouth.

As Adriana fell to the ground, her friend pushed the attacker away. But another student appears to intervene to restrain her, and the girl continues to hit Adriana until a staff member rushes in and stops the attack.

Kuch said Adriana, his youngest child, was part of a large, blended family when he married his wife, Sarah. She and others said Adriana was a happy teenager who loved animals, spending time with the neighbor’s three children across the street and rescuing one of them from a pool.

“My daughter is strong,” he said. “He loved life. I can’t believe they broke him up.”

Most abused children do not take their own lives. And experts say the factors that lead to suicide are complex and often no single cause can be found.

But there is a strong correlation between bullying and suicidal thoughts as well as attempts, several studies have shown.

“Bullying is a violent act, and the person who is bullied is the victim,” said Dr. Jean Craft, past president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Some children have the resilience to respond to this with energy and some need help. And if they don’t get help, it can have devastating consequences, including suicide.”

A study published in 2022 found that adolescents who experienced cyberbullying were four times more likely to report suicidal thoughts and attempts than those who did not. When the researchers adjusted for other factors such as family conflict, racial discrimination, parental monitoring, and school support, the relationship between cyberbullying and suicidal behavior was not as strong, but still significant.

New York University Silver School of Social Work Dean Michael A. “We need to help kids process and share with others what they’re going through,” says Michael A. Lindsay, who researches child and adolescent mental health “It can really make someone incredibly vulnerable to self-harm.”

According to new data released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 in 5 teenage girls have experienced persistent sadness in 2021, twice the rate of boys, and 1 in 3 girls have seriously considered a suicide attempt. The rate of grief is the highest reported in a decade.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults in the United States.

On Monday, New Jersey Governor Philip D. Two top Murphy administration officials said in a statement that they were committed to the increase in suicides among 10- to 24-year-olds documented by the CDC from 2018 to 2021. , providing the resources needed to support youth and prevent further loss of life.

Placing more behavioral health professionals in schools, providing teens with strategies for coping with relationship challenges, monitoring time spent on social media and teaching children to recognize signs of suicidal behavior in themselves and others could help them improve, experts said.

In Bayville and the surrounding Jersey Shore communities west of Barnegat Bay, Adriana’s death has opened the wounds of past bullying incidents and revealed what some parents say is a culture of tolerance among school officials.

In a Facebook post last week, another parent, Rachel O’Dea, said her daughter was attacked by other girls at the same high school Adriana attended a year ago, and that a video of the incident was posted online by one of the attackers. . Although her daughter reported the threats to administrators, O’Dea said on Facebook and a lawsuit is now pending in state court, they took no action.

“Central Regional just labels these incidents as ‘hallway disturbances’ and gives everyone a suspension, so it doesn’t rise to the point of requiring police involvement and reports not being made,” O’Day wrote.

The school district denied the O’Dea family’s allegations of negligence, infliction of emotional distress and other damages.

Kuch said he is also exploring a lawsuit. After the attack, he said, the school did not close.

“They didn’t tell me anything, and then they said they would conduct the investigation internally,” Kuch said. “It is not their policy to contact the police and make a report.”

She said she took her daughter to Berkeley Township police immediately after the attack.

Police referred questions to the Ocean County prosecutor, Bradley Billheimer, who said the school told an officer stationed there about the attack and that police opened an investigation after Kucher’s visit.

The following week, the district superintendent, Triantaphilos Parlapanides, angered community members with a series of comments widely regarded as insensitive. Beyond the protest against bullying at Adriana’s high school, she told News 12 New Jersey that the blame is on parents.

“We’re not going to hit a kid twice where they get fired and then the police charge as well,” Parlapanides said. He then sent a letter home saying that the protest had interfered with learning and caused traffic jams, that no further gatherings would be allowed without permission.

And in emails cited in a Daily Mail article, the superintendent appeared to shift the blame to Adriana and her father. A day after the article was published, he resigned. Parlapani could not be reached for comment.

Billhimer, the Ocean County prosecutor, announced late last week that four students had been charged as juveniles: one with aggravated assault, two with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and one with harassment.

On TikTok, where the video of the attack first aired, other teenagers posted videos honoring Adriana on a new channel: @justice4age — Justice for Adriana Cooch.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or visit for a list of additional resources.

© 2023 The New York Times Company

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