Mourners wear blue after 15-year-old's suicide

Family says teen took life because of cyber-bullying

  • Visitors wait in line outside to view Grace McComas in her draped coffin at St Michael's Catholic Church. Many wore blue, Grace's favorite color.
Visitors wait in line outside to view Grace McComas in her draped… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
April 13, 2012|By Susan Reimer and Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun

The mourners wore blue nail polish, blue-striped ties, blue jewelry and crisp blue dress shirts. Blue hoodies and blue hair bands.

Blue was Grace McComas' favorite color, so that's what mourners at her visitation wore Friday in memory of the 15-year-old Glenelg High School sophomore who took her life recently to end the pain, her family said, of a cyber-bullying campaign against her.

Meanwhile, a social media "event" — blue4grace — was begun by friends and quickly went viral, stretching far beyond Howard County.

"American Idol" runner-up Lauren Alaina tweeted to the blue4grace campaign, sending prayers to the family, and the issue caught the attention of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who is planning an anti-bullying event next month. There also were pledges to participate from as far away as Ireland and the Czech Republic.

Many mourners who packed St. Michael Roman Catholic Church in Mount Airy for the visitation were wearing blue, too. Members of Grace's family — sisters Cara, 20, Megan, 18, and Gloria, 11; and her parents Chris and Dave McComas — were heartened by the blue campaign.

"It's like she's not gone," said Gloria.

"We can go on knowing her story can save someone else," said Megan.

Grace's mother said she found an entry in her daughter's journal saying that her hope for the new year was to "find happiness and forgive those who had hurt her."

Chris McComas said the cyber-bullying had lasted for months and was carefully documented by the family, but relatives did not discuss details.

"She was an extremely tenderhearted girl," the mother said of Grace, who committed suicide on Easter Sunday. "Words can hurt, and it needs to be said."

Howard County police said an investigation into her death is continuing; no further details were released.

An average of 25 boys and girls, ages 15 to 19, committed suicide in Maryland each year from 2005 to 2009, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How many teens might have taken their lives because of bullying is not known.

What's clear is that cyber-bullying is prevalent, said Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer who advises Facebook and MTV on online safety. Aftab also is executive director of WiredSafety, which she describes as the world's largest cyber-safety charity.

"I don't want the kids to be more resilient," Aftab said. "I want the kids who are doing it to stop. I want friends of the kids being bullied to stand up and say, 'I am with you.' The popular kids, the smart kids, the big kids need to stand up and say, 'Stop.'"

Grace's death has sparked an outcry throughout cyberspace, including Tumblr posts by friends, and friends of friends. By late Friday, more than 1,000 people had joined the "Wear Blue Friday 4.13 in Grace's honor" event on Facebook. On Twitter, Alaina, the 2011 "American Idol" runner-up, posted, "#blue4grace prayers to her family. It's horrible when the world loses young people."

Rice, the Ravens player, asked Grace's family to help him with an anti-bullying town hall event he is planning in early May in Howard County.

Rice said though his publicist, Deb Poquette, that he felt compelled to speak out, and about six weeks ago, he posted a message on his Facebook page against bullying.

In the 10 days since Grace's suicide and the death of another Baltimore-area teen, he has received some 1,500 emails and Facebook messages on the subject. Most messages were from the Baltimore area, but some came from as far away as England and New Zealand, Poquette said.

"I have heard heartbreaking stories that have literally rocked me to the core," Rice said through the publicist. "I am committed to raising awareness, to give kids a voice.

"I just want to let them know they are not alone, that bullying can damage, change and even end a life. Bullying is a big deal. Kids: There are resources out there to help. Ask for help and don't stop asking until you get it."

The conversation is timely, with Friday's national release of "Bully," a documentary that premiered a day earlier in Baltimore. Maryland first lady Katie O'Malley, who took part in a town hall event after the screening, has made anti-bullying a top initiative.

"There is nothing more heartbreaking than a parent losing a child, and it is tragic to hear when a child commits suicide due to bullying, but it is our responsibility as parents, as students, as educators, as one community, to make sure that these incidents don't happen in our schools and communities," O'Malley said in a statement Friday. "When it comes to bullying, everyone is a victim — our kids, our communities, our schools, our educators and administrators, and our families."

Maryland, the seventh state to enact an anti-bullying law, is working to improve reporting systems to capture bullying incidents and to educate more people on the impact, O'Malley said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.