Family shares story of 11-year-old son’s death in hopes of helping others

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WARNING: This story contains references to suicide. Viewer discretion is advised.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — An 11-year-old boy in the 6th grade at Waterloo Middle School recently took his own life. Gio Bourne’s mother and sister sat down with News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke to share his story in hopes of helping other families.

Gio Bourne was always making his family laugh.

"He just was a sweet boy, always giving, always willing to help someone,” his mother Angelicia Smith said.

But the 11-year old had a hard time making real friends at school.

"They would constantly call him and hang up, call him, hang up, or call him and say mean things over the phone, or put him in a group call and say mean things to him,” Smith recalled.

She says she reported several bullying incidents to the Waterloo School District and always got a similar response.

"’We can’t tell you what the punishment was for a child who was bullying your child,’ and I’m like, well then how do I know, how am I satisfied as a parent that my child is going to be safe the next day at school,” she said.

In her desperation, Smith even applied for a job at Waterloo Middle School.

"Just being a presence in the school, I felt like was going to make a huge difference for my son and make him feel safe. I was there, mom was there to protect him, and my eyes were going to be there,” she said, but she didn’t get hired.

Gio’s older sister, Esabella Bourne, had been bullied herself.

"My freshman year, I ate lunch in the bathroom. I would go where the counselors are located in our school and sit in there sometimes and not even eat, just wait until the period was over and go to my next class," she recalls, and that’s why she tried to help her little brother. "Social media is very powerful and it can get to you. I feel like that’s what happened with my brother, too."

On June 22, Esabella found her brother in his room.

"Every mom knows a child’s scream and what it means, and in my gut, I knew something was really, really wrong,” Smith said. “I ran up the stairs to find my son hanging on the back of his closet door…I just screamed, I screamed at the top of my lungs.”

The moments and days since have been a bit of a blur.

"All I can say is, I feel my son didn’t quite mean to do this,” Smith said.

That mother’s intuition may be right. It turns out, Gio was on FaceTime the morning of his death with a classmate. Smith says that the classmate didn’t call 911 when she saw what was happening.

"Nobody ever said anything, and according to this young lady who spoke to the detectives… she told them “well, he’s done this before, so I thought he was joking,’” she said.

Police are investigating whether Gio was attempting what’s known as the “blackout challenge” as a way to impress his classmates/bullies. But what has re-victimized the family is the person who was on the other end of that FaceTime call, took pictures.

"She has been sharing it with other children in the community," Smith said. "I know for a fact she did with one young lady because we spoke to that lady’s parents yesterday."

As Gio’s family tries to pick up the pieces, they have a simple message.

“I think I would say to the bullies: do better, just do better,” Bourne said.

“You have to know that if you see unsafe behaviors like this, you have to tell someone,” pleads Smith who said she had no idea he had ever tried anything like this before.

The New York State Police is currently investigating.

Waterloo School Superintendent Terri Bavis tells News10NBC, “First and foremost, on behalf of the Board of Education, Staff, and Students of Waterloo Central School District, we express our deepest sympathy to Ms. Smith. While the district cannot discuss specific matters, there have been absolutely no reports of bullying that have been unaddressed. The district addresses any and all reports of bullying in accordance with Board policies and established protocols and takes appropriate action in response to all reported concerns.”

News10NBC asked Bavis whether the school district was investigating the pictures of Gio’s death that are apparently spreading among students she responded by pointing us to the recent US Supreme Court case related to off-campus/non-school related conduct and said, “since this is an active police investigation, I am unable to comment.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please seek help immediately. The phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, or you can call the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-8255, or text TALK to 741741.

Additional resources can be found on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website.