Parents: Son committed suicide over viral video

SAN DIEGO - A San Diego family said a video taken of their son in a school bathroom went viral and he was bullied so badly over it that he committed suicide.

The family turned to ABC Action News' sister station KGTV to tell their story after getting stonewalled by the school. Their son killed himself in November.

Matthew Burdette's family described the 14-year-old as happy, popular and active.

"I said to my brother first thing, this little boy has a twinkle in his eye. He just loved life," said his aunt, Laura Burdette Mechak.

Mechak agreed to talk to KGTV about her nephew. Matthew's parents were too distraught to tell their story on camera.

His parents said something happened to the boy at his high school that changed everything.

"They told me that Matthew had killed himself. I fell on the floor, devastated. I never saw it coming," said Mechak.

The family said the boy left a letter.

"He said, I can't do school anymore. I have no friends. I don't want to kill myself but I have no friends," said Mechak.

His aunt and father brought the letter to University City High School to talk to school officials.

"We asked them specifically to please help us figure out what happened," said Mechak.

She said school officials wouldn't tell them anything about what may have caused Matthew to hate school.

"Kids came forward to help them figure out what was going on," said Mechak.

Matthew's friends told his parents about a video. They said a classmate had peered over a bathroom stall and recorded Matthew while he was at school.

They said that student then posted it on Snapchat, Vine and other sites claiming he caught Matthew masturbating.

"It went viral. It went beyond his school. It went to other schools in California. 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," said Mechak.

Allison Worden of Gomez Trial Attorneys represents 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," said Mechak.

His family said it was after those two weeks of bullying that Matthew took his life.

His parents went back to University City High School. They said the district knew about the video because they had launched an internal investigation.

The Burdettes said the school would not tell them if the student who had shot the video and posted it on social media outlets was disciplined.

"No one would provide them with answers," said Worden.

Worden believes the school district failed Matthew on many levels. She said a teacher had kicked the boy out of class for eating sunflower seeds and sent him out with no direction on where to go.

Worden said this left Matthew to wander the halls and end up in the bathroom.

She also said the school district failed to protect Matthew under the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 and the California Safe Place Act.

The San Diego Unified School District refused an on-camera interview and has not answered any of Team 10's questions regarding the incident.

The district released this statement mid-afternoon Monday:
 
"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. For this reason,  the district cannot provide details about  Matthew Burdette's death. Our hearts and thoughts continue to be with his family and loved ones."
 
The Burdettes went to the San Diego Police Department. They said the boy who took the video confessed and was arrested.

The case was forwarded to the District Attorney's office.

"The Burdettes made contact with the DA and again, after that first call, their questions fell on deaf ears," said Worden.

The DA would not give Team 10 details because the case involves a juvenile. They said there is a hearing for the matter on July 23.

Burdette's mother wrote a letter to the School Board asking for answers.

"Within 30 minutes the Board of Education president called them saying he knew nothing of this. He was outraged," said Mechak.

Kevin Beiser, The Board of Education President, wrote the following email to the Burdettes:

"We discussed at length in closed session and are waiting to hear from the DA. Staff is also going to recommend district policy changes regarding issues like this."

The Burdettes emailed back asking if the school district took action against the boy who took the video.

"They've never heard anything since," said Mechak.

That's when the family decided to get Matthew's story out there. They are hoping for answers, changes and to get through to other kids.

"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," said Mechak.

The Burdettes have filed a claim against the San Diego Unified School District and have six months to file a lawsuit.


SUICIDE PREVENTION (24-HOUR HOTLINES)
San Diego County Crisis Line: 1-888-724-7240
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

BULLYING RESOURCES
StopBullying.org | Dealing with bullying | The BULLY Project

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