'Systems failed us': NJ family sues school after teen's suicide (2024)

🔘 The 14-year-old took her life in September 2022

🔘 Family suing school district and the accused bullies

🔘 Suit details “extended and persistent pattern” of harassment

MIDDLETOWN — Jocelyn Walters was a dedicated athlete who was often the first player on the soccer field and the last to leave.

The 14-year-old was a responsible student, sharing her Google calendar for various clubs and extracurricular events with her parents.

On Sept. 9, 2022, Jocelyn died by suicide at home.

She had suffered an “extended and persistent pattern” of harassment and bullying by other students at Middletown High School North, forat least a year before her death, which the Walters family said school administrators and adult staff did nothing to ease.

Middletown High School (Google Maps)

Jocelyn Walters

In early 2022, Fred Walters contacted Middletown High School North regarding acts of harassment, intimidation, bullying and abuse directed against his daughter, according to the family's lawsuit filed last month.

The complaint said school administrators, counselors and other staff failed to intervene with any meaningful help and the intimidation and bullying by an unknown number of students continued.

Jocelyn 'Jocey' Walters (courtesy Fred Walters) (2)

Fred Walters says Jocelyn had a smile that was infectious.

She loved basketballand then got intosoccer.

A selfie in a shirt of one of Jocelyn's favorite bands was shared by the band's official social media account, which was thrilling for the teen.

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan has since spoken about Jocelyn as a story that connects with him.

After months of continued bullying and harassment by her fellow students, according to the suit, Jocelyn attempted suicide and was hospitalized in March 2022.

Two days later, the complaint said, her father met with school counselors and staff, voicing concern that the school was not working to support his daughter as a victim of bullying and harassment.

Following her hospitalization, the teen sought care with a psychiatric nurse in late August 2022.

While she was given a higher dosage of antidepressant medication, the lawsuit said, Jocelyn’s parents were not advised of “her emergent condition” and a follow-up appointment was not scheduled.

Middletown High School (Google Maps)

At the beginning of the next school year, despite a long and documented history of abuse, Jocelyn was placed in some of the same classes as her known "tormentor," according to the suit.

On Sept. 8 and 9, 2022, Jocelyn reported to the school nurse, who “failed to take appropriate action given Jocelyn’s history and further failed to alert Jocelyn’s parents" of the visits, the suit said.

She died later that final day.

The Walters' lawsuit alleges negligence and liability as well as discrimination in creating a hostile environment, and wrongful death.

"The systems failed us," Fred said Friday.

The suit seeks compensatory damages along with interest, punitive damages, costs of suit and attorneys’ fees.

Named as defendants are the school district’s former superintendent, the principal, an assistant principal and anti-bullying specialists, unnamed students and school staff and the Middletown Board of Education.

It also names the licensed psychiatric nurse who was treating the teen for depression andthe practice that he works for.

Fred, his wife, Solangie Walters, and Jocelyn’s sister started a nonprofit called 99 Smiles.The number was Jocelyn's jersey number as a soccer goal keeper.

It was also the day of her death — 9/9 — her father adds.

Unfortunately, the Walters' story is not unique.

There have been a growing number of lawsuits in New Jersey filed by grieving parents over the past few years, saying that the current systems for handling such situations have failed.

Felicia LoAlbo-Melendez suicide FW Holbein Middle School (courtesy Elaina LoAlbo, Mt. Holly Schools))

Felicia LobAlbo-Melendez

In November, Elaina LoAlbo filed her lawsuit against the Mount Holly school district after 11-year-old Felicia LoAlbo-Melendez took her own lifein a school bathroom in February 2023.

RELATED: NJ town stunned by 11-year-old girl's suicide inside school

LoAlbo’s suit said her daughter had been the victim of an “extended, persistent period of bullying” by other students.

The Mount Holly school district has been slow to respond in court, other than moving to have the case dismissed.

Adriana Kuch (mastapetermemorialhome.com)

Adriana Kuch

In January, an Ocean County family filed a lawsuit against the Central Regional High School District, accusing administrators of negligence leading to the suicide of 14-year-old Adriana Kuch.

The teen was assaulted in school and tormented on social media ahead of her death by suicide at home on Feb. 3, 2023.

Read More: Superintendent resigns after bullied NJ student's death

Attorney William Krais said that the family is seeking justice for Adriana Kuch by punishing the conduct of school officials, who he said "knew they had a bullying problem."

The suit, which seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages, was filed against the Central Regional High School Board of Education and then-Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides.

Also named as defendants are the principal, two assistant principals and anti-bullying specialists, as well as the anti-bullying coordinator and other staff and administrators.

12-year-old Malloy Grossman (Mallory's Army/Facebook)

Mallory Grossman

In 2017, 12-year-old Mallory Grossman of Rockaway Township died by suicide after the middle school student had suffered persistent cyberbullying.

Tireless advocacy in her memory sparked state legislation known as “Mallory’s Law" and the nonprofit Mallory's Army.

Dianne and Seth Grossman also sued the Rockaway school district for inaction in the pattern of bullying.

That suit ended in August 2023 with a settlement of $9.1 million.

Read More: Mallory's Army mom on what can be done about bullying in NJ

In settling, the district did not admit wrongdoing. School officials had previously called allegations of ignoring the Grossman family or failing to address bullying "categorically false.”

“I think that it’s time for the schools to understand that we have an epidemic on our hands,” Dianne Grossman said in a CNN interview shortly after the settlement.

“I think it’s time for the schools to enforce their policies and if they don’t have policies — now’s the time to write those policies.”

Teen suicide spikes

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between 10 and 24, according to the state Department of Children and Families.

Nationwide, the suicide rate among young people ages 10-24 increased 62% percent from 2007 through 2021, alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

NJ Suicide prevention Hopeline (NJ.gov)

New Jersey's peer support and suicide prevention hotline is staffed by mental health professionals and peer support specialists 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing phone support, assessment and referral.

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'Systems failed us': NJ family sues school after teen's suicide (2024)
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