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Confronting bullying, and giving the voiceless a voice

It’s a conundrum for young reporters: When tragedy strikes, do you speak to the victims right away, do you pry — or do you give them “space” and come back another day?

Veteran journalists know that, generally, they should quickly speak and pry — both because the story is likely to be most compelling closest to the moment that tragedy struck and because survivors very often — perhaps most often — really want to talk. Survivors intuit that they have a fleeting moment in which to give voice to a loved one whose voice has forever been silenced.

Kyle Munson, one of my favorite Des Moines Register columnists, did both his job and a mitzvah when he sat down with the sister of 14-year-old Kenneth James Weishuhn Jr., whose suicide last Saturday night in Primghar, Iowa, followed in-school and online bullying that descended on him after he came out as gay.

Kayla Weishuhn on death of her bullied brother, posted with vodpod

“There’s no reason to make someone hate themselves the way you made my brother hate himself. He was a beautiful person. I don’t understand why you needed to be so mean to him,” Weishuhn’s sister Kayla, a sophomore, says in a simple yet extraordinary video. “He said, ‘mom, you don’t know what it is like to be hated by everybody, you don’t know what it’s like to come home from school every day and just cry’…

“You said you didn’t want it to get this far, well maybe you should have thought about that before you posted, or called him a queer or a fagot in the hallway…

“Bullying needs to stop; enough is enough. I don’t know what more to say except what my brother used to say: ‘Be buddies, not bullies’.”

Kayla’s video is part of a Munson-assembled Storified roundup of Iowa news reports about Weishuhn’s death, the bullying issue, and more video from Kenneth’s family and friends.

Munson’s Storified post reminds — it’s unfortunate that reminders are still needed — of the sobering consequences of bullying. Let’s think about Kenneth Weishuhn, along images from the reality-based film “Bully,” as Kenneth is laid to rest today [Thursday April 19] and tomorrow [Friday April 20], the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s annual Day of Silence, when participants highlight the power of words by their absence and “call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.”

“The Bully Project” Trailer – Controversial D…, posted with vodpod

Moments of silence have a place, especially as memorial to those permanently silenced. But silence alone is an ephemeral and inadequate response.

“We need to stand up and speak out against those who choose to hurt others,” Alyce Townsend, a young mother of three, wrote on the Spencer [IA] Daily Reporter blog. “I raised my kids to fight back or stand up and fight for those who can’t or won’t,” added Leah Cauthron.

We have no right to stand mute when facing the torment of a child.


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