Rachel Ehmke of Mantorville was just 13 years old when she took her own life in 2012.
For months leading up to her suicide, a group of middle school girls dragged her reputation through the mud, calling her a slut and a prostitute. Classmates defaced her locker and stuck gum to her books.
Two days before her death, an anonymous chain text challenged other students to drive Ehmke out of school.
One month later, 17-year-old Jay Jones of Rochester killed himself after being taunted at school for being gay.
In 2014, 19-year-old Alyssa Funke killed herself after an amateur porn flick she’d shot spread like wildfire through Stillwater High. At the time, Funke was a straight-A biology major at the University of Wisconsin, but her old classmates were able to get into her head with a barrage of tweets and Facebook posts calling her generic variations of slut.
Four months after that, African American student Isaiah Gatimu committed suicide after classmates at Greenway High on the Iron Range beat him with a toy whip, blocked him from water fountains they said were “whites only,” and threatened to hang him “like your ancestors.”
In December 2014, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found that while the bullying had been “severe and pervasive," school officials played a part in Gatimu's death when they failed to intervene.
Teens have always been cruel to each other, but now that everybody's attached to their phones, the bullies get to bully nonstop. It's a deadly combination.
According to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, suicide is now the second leading cause of death among American teenagers. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education reports that Minnesota is no exception, estimating that a fourth of high school freshmen in the state have entertained thoughts of killing themselves.
Victims of bullying and bullies alike are more likely to attempt suicide, wrote Dr. Benjamin Shain, the lead author. He also concluded that teens with web addiction — defined as at least five hours of video games and internet use daily — were far more likely to be depressed and suicidal than their peers who were more grounded in the real world.
In Minnesota, suicide rates in general have been climbing for the past decade, peaking in 2011 with some 700 deaths. Middle-aged men accounted for much of the uptick, while suicides among the youth kept steady.