With senior prom happening at Coral Springs' J.P. Taravella High School, this week was supposed to be an exciting time for students.
Instead, many are in mourning after 15-year-old sophomore cheerleader Blake McCullers committed suicide at his Tamarac home early Wednesday morning. Blake, whom school principal Shawn Cerra described as “very outgoing, likeable,” was an active student and a member of the cheerleading team, Academy of Finance and DECA marketing club.
“It’s been really hard on the kids. We’ve had grief counselors here the past two days, doing individual and group therapy," Cerra told HuffPost Miami.
Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a call about a teen's hanging at 2:29 a.m. Wednesday, said spokeswoman Dani Moschella, and are still investigating what prompted the suicide.
Though a law enforcement source said police aren't convinced Blake's suicide was the result of bullying, students have taken to social media en masse with anti-bullying messages and posting photos with “love more, judge less” written on their wrists.
“If [bullying] was going on, no one on my staff was aware, and even with the kids, we had no idea," Cerra said. "To my knowledge, I can’t put my finger on that that was a part of it, but we’re not ruling it out.”
One student took to Tumblr expressing her confusion about alleged bullying:
Another was more specific:
Everyone liked him, except for his bullies. Well, last night Blake committed suicide. He hung himself. To be honest, I never thought that bullying was a major problem in my school. For the most part, everyone seemed to get along well enough. But obviously I was wrong.
"Do people still honestly not understand that WORDS HURT? Words kill people. It makes me so sad to hear that yet ANOTHER cheerleader has taken his life because he was being made fun of for doing something he LOVES. Just because he is a cheerleader, people said nasty things to the point where he wanted to never be able to hear it ever again, at any cost."
Taravella's student government has planned suicide prevention activities for next week, including instructions on where to get help, wearing yellow in support of suicide prevention efforts, and a pledge to disclose suicidal thoughts. An assembly honoring Blake is planned for the following week.
Cerra said Blake is the 4th Taravella student in 10 years to take his own life; the most recent death was just two years ago.
“We want kids to be able to open up and make sure that they are sharing anything that goes down like that with staff or with their parents or people and the community,” he said.
UPDATE, May 11: Blake's older sister Amber McCullers told HuffPost Miami that her brother was not bullied or gay, and that she hopes he won't be remembered as a victim.
"I believe that kids are just looking for answers, and after one kid said he was bullied they all hopped on the bandwagon," she told HuffPost Miami. "They want reasons just like we do, and when they can't find one, they make it up. A lot of kids that take their lives at that age are bullied, so it's an obvious conclusion to jump to. It's just not correct in this case."
Blake, she said, was close to his older brother DJ, who was also on the Taravella cheerleading team.
"None of the people that saw him every day ever saw him bullied," she commented. "He was picked on, like everyone in high school was picked on, but he wasn't tormented or harassed, and it didn't cause this. We may never know why Blake did what he did."
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
WATCH: How to talk to teens about suicide: