Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Cyber Bullied Teen Dies After “Secret” Video Goes Viral; Boy’s Family Stonewalled by School System

Matthew S. Burdette, 14-year-old victim of cyber bullying and cyber voyeurism.

Matthew S. Burdette, 14-year-old victim of cyber bullying and cyber voyeurism.

San Diego, California – The family of a teen who took his life after a secret video of him in the school Men’s Room went viral on the web say bullying drove him to it–but his school refuses to communicate with them about it.  Matthew S. Burdette, 14, fell victim to a classmate at University City High School who allegedly videoed Burdette masturbating in the toilet by holding a phone over the top of the stall, and then blasted the images on the internet, according to ABC 10. Matthew left a note to his family detailing a storm of bullying targeting him as the reason for his fatal despair.  His aunt, Laura Burdette Mechak, said her nephew just couldn’t take the bullying anymore–but since she and his parents knew nothing of the video, they had no idea why Matthew took his life. He was a popular boy, working on his Eagle Scout rank, a member of the water polo team, and well-liked by everyone, so far as they knew. Then something happened at high school that he didn’t want to talk about. Mechak told ABC 10 about the contents of her nephew’s suicide note, “He said, I can’t do school anymore. I have no friends. I don’t want to kill myself but I have no friends.”

Since Matthew’s death in November 2013, his family has repeatedly tried to get answers from the school, but to no avail.  His aunt and his father took the suicide note with them to the school, and asked officials what they knew about whatever had driven their beloved Matthew to such despair.  The school dropped a cloak of secrecy over the incident for months, and refused to share information with the Burdettes.  The distraught family only pieced together what had happened to Matthew after classmates blew the whistle on the school, and revealed the existence of the excruciatingly embarrassing video.  Mechak said, “Kids came forward to help them figure out what was going on.”  They told Matthew’s parents that after his antagonist spied on him over the stall, the student put the video he shot on Snapchat, Vine, and other sites on the web.  “It went viral. It went beyond his school. It went to other schools in California,” Mechak said. “Kids in the neighborhood who didn’t go to Matthew’s school had heard about it and seen the video that was taken of him.”  Then the weeks of brutal taunting and bullying started.

The bullying was unrelenting, according to Mechak, though Matthew hid his crisis from the family.  “Kids saw this video and began to tease Matthew mercilessly — they teased him, they harassed him. They made his life miserable over a two-week period,” she said. Then, he took his life.

Matthew’s parents demanded to know what the school had done about the boy who videoed their son.  Mechak says that she and they bear no ill will toward the kid who ignited all this sorrow.  It was only after the San Diego Police Department told them that the unnamed juvenile had been arrested and confessed to taking the video, and the District Attorney refused to supply the family with any more information about the case that the Burdettes secured an attorney to file a claim against the San Diego Unified School District, and bring their side of the story to the public.  “I don’t have hatred for the kid who took this video. He was a dumb kid who did a dumb thing. But these kids don’t get it. They don’t realize how big the cyber bullying world is,” Mechak told ABC 10.

sdusd-signThe Los Angeles Times reports that Matthew’s parents, Timothy and Barbara Burdette have filed a $1 million claim against the school system, alleging that a teacher, a school administrator, and possibly other school employees knew about the incriminating video and its creator, and did nothing to protect or help their son. In the claim, the Burdettes say that they are now “forced to bear the death of their son for the rest of [our] lives.”  The school system rejected their claim, so the family now has six months to file a lawsuit.  Their attorney says the school failed Matthew on several counts, and that the creator of the video may be guilty of breaking California’s anti-bullying law.  The District Attorney says that their will be a hearing for the young man who ignited this whole incident on July 23.

This past Monday, the San Diego Unified School District issued a statement expressing sympathy for the family, but continuing to stonewall them at every turn.  In part, the press release reads: “At San Diego Unified, the safety and well-being of our students is a top priority. The district also adheres to the privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations related to students, families and ongoing investigations.”

Bullying in schools remains at epidemic levels throughout California and the United States.  Matthew Burdette’s case shows that even athletic and well-regarded teens can fall victim to suicidal despair, whatever their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and presentation may be.  It is imperative that parents and friends know the warning signs of the onset of suicidal thoughts in teenagers.  The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), among others, have excellent online resources to help teens and families.  Their teen suicide prevention information may be accessed here. 

July 16, 2014 - Posted by | Bullycide, Bullying in schools, California, cyber voyeurism, harassment, National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), San Diego Unified School District, suicide, teen suicide | , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on JerBear's Queer World News, Views & More From The City Different – Santa Fe, NM and commented:
    This is really sad and infuriating when you consider the school’s response…

    Comment by jerbearinsantafe | October 27, 2014

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