Family mourns suicide death of bullied teen

Rachel Ehmke
Rachel Ehmke, 13, a 7th grader at Kasson-Mantorville middle school, was laid to rest during funeral services Friday, May 4, 2012, in Kasson, Minn., in southern Minnesota. Ehmke committed suicide last weekend, reportedly because of intense bullying she experienced at school.
Photo courtesy of the family via Rochester Post-Bulletin

A funeral was held today in the small southern Minnesota town of Kasson for 13-year old Rachel Ehmke.

The father of the 7th grader said she took her own life on Sunday after facing relentless bullying at school and online from a group of girls. Rick Ehmke said the school could have done more to stop the bullying that he believes led to the death of his daughter.

At a wake for his daughter on Thursday night in Kasson, the Ehmke family spent four hours shaking hands, hugging and talking with people from the community.

"They were lined up all over the place. It took forever," Rick Ehmke said. "They finally said we have to close the church or this could go on forever."

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Ehmke said he and Rachel's mother, brother and sister have been in shock since Rachel took her own life on Sunday.

"Honestly, we had no inkling. There was no sign you'd look for, as far as depression. We never seen any of it, zero," he said.

What there was however, Ehmke says, was bullying at school and online from a group of girls, which he thinks at least contributed to his daughter's decision to take her life.

The constant name-calling started sometime in the fall, Ehmke said.

"She'd say you'd walk by girls in school and they'd holler out things like "slut." Stuff like this. It was just relentless," Ehmke said.

At one point the bullies put gum in his daughter's books and all over her locker, he said.

In a story by the Austin Herald, Rachel's older sister says the word "slut" had been written on her locker, as well.

Ehmke said his daughter's locker was not cleaned-off after the incident. In fact, he said it took a follow-up call from him two months later to get anything done.

He does not feel the school did enough to punish those who were responsible. Ehmke said they were talked to by school leaders, but he thinks more should have been done.

"It's our hope that they come to realize what's currently being done isn't enough," he said.

Ehmke said Rachel told him last Friday that the bullying was continuing, so much so, that she and a friend had started eating in a locker room to get away from lunchtime taunting. Rachel even told her dad she wanted to switch schools.

The superintendent of Kasson-Mantorville School District, Mark Matuska, says he can't talk about past incidents because it would violate privacy laws.

But Matuska said there was an incident last Friday in which someone sent a text saying something inappropriate about Rachel.

"It was to a high enough degree that we felt it necessary to contact law enforcement," Matuska said.

A group of three girls reported the text, in part because they were being blamed for sending it.

Local law enforcement investigated, and found the text came from someone who was not a student at the school.

The district has a bullying policy that is typical of many in the state. It prohibits teasing or threats of any type, whether in person or online. The policy also states all reports of bullying will be investigated within 24 hours.

In a student survey in 2010, 16 percent of ninth-grade girls in Kasson-Mantorville reported being bullied at least weekly, close to the statewide average.

Matuska said the school has a bullying prevention program in place, one developed by the Hazelden Foundation, that all teachers were trained in last fall. He said the next step in bullying prevention has to involve the entire community.

"We need kids and we need adults to be a lot nicer and to be a lot more respectful of other people in their classes, in the community, after school, on the weekends, wherever they're at," Matuska said.

Rick Ehmke said the Dodge County Attorney is investigating the bullying, and may file criminal charges in the case, but that the family does not plan to press charges against those responsible for the harassment.

"They're kids. They made some horrible decisions. If these kids would've have known this would happen I'm pretty sure they never, ever would have done what they did," Ehmke said. "Sadly enough, even those kids that know who they are will carry this bag their whole life. That's a sad thing too, it really is."

Rachel Ehmke's suicide comes as a state task force is studying the issue of bullying in Minnesota.

The group is being asked to send the governor recommendations that could beef up the state's policies and laws on bullying.