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'Her pain was too much to bear'

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 22. 2018 12:49AM
Skylar Desmarais was a student at Highland-Goffe's Falls Elementary School in Manchester. (FAMILY PHOTO)

Skylar Desmarais, seen at top right and, above, with her grandmother Teri took her life at age 11. (FAMILY PHOTOS VIA FACEBOOK)

The family of a Manchester elementary school student who died this week say the girl took her own life following months of bullying by fellow students.

Skylar Desmarais, 11, a fifth-grader at Highland-Goffe’s Falls Elementary School, died Wednesday, family members and school officials said. She was found by a family member in her father’s home in Pittsfield, according to her grandmother, Teri Desmarais of Manchester.

“She had big blue eyes and beautiful, blonde curls ... and I’ll never see them again,” Desmarais said Thursday afternoon. “She was bullied for months on the bus, by kids saying if they looked like Skylar they would kill themselves. This has got to stop. The bullying has got to stop.”

Desmarais said Skylar lived with her in her Queen City home, but was preparing to live with her dad, Michael, and his fiancee Hope Shafer by the end of the summer. She was visiting the couple when she took her life.

“Skylar was such a beautiful soul,” said Shafer. “Loved by all she met. She was spunky and beat to her own drum, so sweet, funny, goofy, talented in so many ways. She had the most loving big heart and would do anything in the world to make anyone happy.”

“She loved drawing and music, a typical 11-year-old,” said Desmarais. “If she found a bug inside, she would make sure you didn’t hurt it and (go) let it outside. Everyone that knew her loved her.”

But Desmarias and Shafer said students on the bus and at school “tormented” Skylar on everything from her appearance to who she preferred to be around.

“She is a victim of bullying, and in the end, despite our efforts, the burden of her pain was too much to bear and she took her life at such an innocent age,” said Shafer. “My sweet baby girl is gone because the school couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything to stop it. And the kids who bullied her were relentless and thought they were funny for the mean and cruel things they said to her.”

School district’s response

Manchester School District spokesman Andrea Alley said she could not comment at this time on claims by Skylar’s family that school administrators were aware of the bullying activity and “couldn’t or wouldn’t” work to prevent it.

Manchester Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas said the district was saddened to learn of the girl’s death.

“Our hearts and prayers are with the family, and Highland-Goffe’s Falls School community,” said Vargas in a statement. “We are ready to provide any support our staff and students need. We appreciate all the assistance we have received from the Manchester mental health community.”

The bullying began early in the last school year, Teri Desmarais said, but became much more intense over the last three months.

She added that Skylar's teacher and guidance counselor were fully supportive and protective and that the school even assigned an adult to stay with Skylar during the morning and afternoon hours after a previous suicide attempt.

Highland-Goffe’s Falls Principal Susan Matthews sent a notice to parents on Thursday notifying them of Skylar’s death.

“By now you may have heard the heartbreaking news of the sudden passing of one of our fifth-grade students, Skylar Desmarais,” writes Matthews. “Our thoughts and sympathies are with her, her family, and also for her many friends. Sadly, like adults many children also go through hardships that may be very difficult. We would like to reach out to our families to let you know that if you or your child are not feeling well, in any way, please reach out for help.”

On Thursday afternoon, representatives from the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester (668-4111) and the New Hampshire Disaster Behavioral Health Response Team from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services were available at the school to offer support for staff and students. School paraprofessional Gail Dubois and her therapy dog, Remington, were also available for students.

Desmarais said Pittsfield police found two notes near Skylar when she died, including one that “graphically described the bullying” that was taking place. She said police also had her granddaughter’s phone, which contained multiple messages involving bullying.

Desmarais said she plans to work to stop bullying “so some good can come of this.”

“People need to understand the power their words can have, to either hurt or help someone,” said Desmarais. “I would tell Skylar the world can change in 10 minutes — not always for the best, but usually for the better. I guess she couldn’t wait for that next 10 minutes. She had so much life ahead of her, and now it’s gone.”

A GoFundMe page set up Thursday to cover $5,000 in funeral expenses raised $5,540 in just seven hours. The fund is no longer accepting donations.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.

Suicide hotlines

Crisis intervention services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to any person in the Granite State through the state Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Behavioral Health at 271-5000.

Those dealing with an immediate crisis, are urged to call 911, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), visit the emergency room at your local hospital, or contact the local community mental health center.

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