AP NEWS

Suicide Victims’ Fam Ilies Try to Spare Others the Same Pain

January 19, 2019

By Jessica Heslam

Boston Herald

In the fall of 2016, Connor Tronerud was getting up to 1,000 texts every day, tormented by peers who mocked him with photos taken at their Catholic school and summer camp.

In December 2017, the Sutton 15-year-old killed himself, a stunning end to a bright boy’s life that left his family devastated and searching for answers.

Connor’s story is similar to that of Anna Aslanian, a Lowell High School sophomore who took her own life in October. Anna, too, had been the target of relentless bullying from classmates at school and on social media.

Both Connor’s and Anna’s parents now grapple with the same insurmountable grief shared by families of child suicides, while seeking answers, trying to hold people accountable, and trying to raise awareness by telling their stories.

“There could be a lot of guilt about not knowing that the bullying was going on. That just compounds an absolutely tragic situation,” said Ellen Braaten of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. For some parents, she said, “their efforts to do something about it were thwarted ... they weren’t able to stop it.”

Compounding the pain, Braaten said, is the knowledge that “there’s someone out there who has ignited something in your child and is now living a normal life.”

Anna’s family was unaware of the extent of the torment and body-shaming she faced, until they found a letter after her death. Connor’s family fought a frustrating battle with Marianapolis Preparatory School in Thompson, Conn., long before he took his life.

“I know that the bullying broke my son,” said his mother, Teresa Tronerud. “We don’t want anyone, any kid, any family, to have to go through what we are going through.”

She recalled pulling into the florist’s parking lot to pick out arrangements for her son’s funeral and getting a call from Joseph Hanrahan, the head of Marianapolis. Hanrahan, she claims, asked her to change Connor’s obit and take out that he’d been bullied by his peers.

“I’m not going to change it,” she says she told him. “This happened.”

Hanrahan did not return requests for comment. A statement from the school said it is “continuously vigilant to aggressive incidents of any kind, including cyberbullying.” But Teresa says the private Catholic school failed to intervene, though she pressed them repeatedly before her son’s suicide and Connor himself told the school’s summer camp director he was being bullied.

The Worcester County District Attorney’s office launched an investigation, which remains open. An investigation by an attorney hired by the school found Connor did report he was being bullied by students but concluded the school “does an exceptional job at preventing and responding to bullying.” But that report omitted an emergency evaluation of Connor, taken after the camp director learned Connor had harmed himself three times, Teresa said. Wendy Murphy, the family’s attorney, said the Connecticut Department of Children and Families found that school officials failed to confront the tormenters.

“Had they done anything at all, Connor would be alive,” Murphy said.

Connor’s family, like Anna’s, wants to raise awareness and plan to turn his GoFundMe https://www.gofundme.com/ whiteknightadvocacy page into a non-profit organization focused on bullying prevention, suicide and social media.

Anna and Connor’s stories are every parents’ worst nightmare. Both families now fight through their pain by trying to prevent others from experiencing what they have.

AP RADIO
Update hourly