More than 200 students and community members gathered Thursday night outside Bennion Junior High School in Taylorsville, Utah, to remember a 14-year-old boy who had killed himself there just hours prior.
The teen, identified Friday as David Q. Phan, shot himself in the head in front of peers on a sky bridge just outside the school. Friends said Phan was kind and friendly, and condemned the bullying they say may have led to his suicide.
Phan reportedly left school around 1:30 p.m. Thursday with his mother, but returned at about 3 p.m., pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head. Classmates say he had visited the principal's office earlier that day, FOX 13 reports. The teen died shortly after being transported to the hospital.
"He was one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever known," ninth grader Hunter Evensen told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Evanson and others at the Thursday night vigil reflected on what they say was unprovoked bullying that Phan endured from dozens of classmates.
School officials, however, say the teen never reported bullying to the school after one report made several years ago. KSL reports:
This student had been contacted regularly by a school counselor (over the past 18 months) to monitor his well being specific to concerns with bullying. Despite being questioned on an ongoing basis, this student did not report any instances of bullying. Additionally, the administration has not received any reports of bullying of this student from the student himself or other students. This is not to say that bullying was not an issue (as that continues to be investigated), but that bullying issues cannot be addressed unless they are reported.
"We have no formal reports of bullying," district spokesman Ben Horsley told the Salt Lake Tribune. "We don’t have any student come forward to talk about bullying."
But Phan's classmate Makayla Schmidt told KSL that bullying is especially difficult to detect when it comes in the form of verbal, as opposed to physical, abuse.
"I heard it, people [talking about him," she told the station. "I don't think people realize how much words can hurt."
The school is investigating the bullying allegations and is providing counselors for students and families affected by Phan's death. Officials have said they believe it to be an isolated incident and have not seen evidence of criminal activity.
Utah ranks in the middle of the country with respect to state bullying laws. The U.S. Department of Education has identified 16 "key components" in state bullying legislation, and Utah's law covers eight of them, according to an Education Department analysis of state bullying laws released in December.
Utah is among six states -- alongside Delaware, Florida, New Hampshire, Vermont and West Virginia -- that require districts to integrate bullying policies into existing school discipline policies.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.