Rotterdam police concluded their investigation into the circumstances surrounding the suicide last month of a Schalmont High School freshman, but failed to find any conduct that rose to the level of criminality and will leave any disciplinary action up to the school district.
Lt. Michael Brown said investigators interviewed at least a half-dozen students following leads they picked up from Jack Gannon-Zebrowski’s family and through social media. The information they gleaned in the case, however, didn’t necessitate further action on the part of law enforcement.
“We’re not saying that he wasn’t mistreated by other students,” he said Thursday. “We’re saying that it didn’t rise to the criminal level.”
He said the mistreatment is detailed in a report police sent to the district, but he would not discuss those details. The district said it hadn’t received the report Thursday and so could not discuss it.
Brown would say the police investigation did not uncover any information not already known to Schalmont. He said the incidents reviewed by police seemed like actions that would be more likely dealt with by the district, rather than through the court system.
“We’re not giving them anything they didn’t already know about,” he said of the report. “They are aware of all these incidents.”
Jack was only in his second month of high school when he committed suicide Oct. 19. His death came as a shock to his parents, who didn’t hear about his mistreatment at Schalmont until accounts started to materialize on social networking sites the following day.
Don and Robin Gannon-Zebrowski now believe their 14-year-old son was subjected to varying levels of torment from his peers. Friends of the deceased boy have relayed to them stories about their son being shoved around in the hallways, taunted on the bus and, in one incident, doused with a container of milk.
District officials and police both found no record of these incidents — something that hasn’t surprised the family. They believe Jack internalized much of his angst rather than approach administrators about the bullying he faced.
Superintendent Carol Pallas said the district is still awaiting the final report from Rotterdam police, but hasn’t found any information that would result in disciplinary action against a student or group at the school. She said discussions with the students posthumously reporting Jack’s bullying have revealed a narrative that seems unreliable.
“Ultimately nothing could be verified or corroborated, the timelines were off and the versions of some of the allegations were varied,” she said.
Pallas admitted being frustrated by how the information received by the district didn’t match up with events that could be verified. And in many cases, she said there were simply no firsthand witnesses.
“Much of the information was hearsay,” she said.
The district has scheduled a public forum Monday evening to discuss topics ranging from suicide to bullying. The event will feature mental health professionals and is intended to foster a dialogue in the community about what can be done to create a healthier school environment.
Don Gannon-Zebrowski said more dialogue is needed. He faults the district for continuing to downplay the role bullying played in his son’s suicide and for failing to realize the lack of trust many students have in administrators.
“These kids can’t talk to anybody because they’re afraid to talk,” he said.
He also questions why the district seems to push aside accusations of bullying. He said his goal in confronting the district has been to bring what happened to his son to light and seek some sort of discipline against the youths who persecuted him at school.
“Basically what we want is to call out the bullies and give them what they deserve,” he said.