Metro Nashville Police are investigating the death of a local student whose parents say bullying drove the seventh-grader to take her own life.
Tarhiya Sledge, 12, died at her home on Nov. 16 in what authorities are investigating as an apparent suicide, local station FOX 17 reported. An official cause of death hasn’t been released, as the autopsy results are still pending.
Sledge, a former student at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Antioch, had reportedly been the victim of incessant bullying by schoolmates. The child’s parents said they tried talking to the school about the ongoing harassment, but nothing was done.
Jodi Ukrakpor, who also has a child at the school, said a group of kids with a reputation for bullying picked Sledge to be “one of their newest victims.”
“They taunted her, they would physically hit her,” Ukrakpor told the outlet, adding that things got to the point where Sledge’s mother pulled her from school in late October “due to this and admin doing nothing.”
Officials with Metro Nashville Public Schools said they’ve launched an investigation into the circumstances that may have led to Sledge’s suicide. When questioned about reported instances of bullying at JFK Middle, the district said there have been two incidents this year and 12 documented allegations.
“We’re saddened to learn of the death of a student within the MNPS family,” MNPS spokesman Sean Braisted said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the student. Support teams were deployed to the schools affected to help students and faculty impacted by this tragic death.”
Relatives told FOX 17 that Sledge had attempted suicide once before. They described her bullies as “cruel” and said the young girl often felt unheard.
“She just wanted to be accepted by everyone,” said Mario Glover, Sledge’s stepfather. “The ones who hurt her the most was the main ones she was calling friends.”
Recent studies have reported a sharp increase in suicides among African-American youth, with children as young as 5 taking their own lives. A 2018 report published in JAMA Pediatrics found that suicide rates among Black children under 13 are double that of white children of the same age.
In a similar study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicides among Black children younger than 18 had jumped 71 percent between 2006 and 2016, a time when suicides among all children increased 64 percent.
On Tuesday, members of the community gathered near Sledge’s old school to honor the young girl’s life with a candlelight vigil. The girl’s great-aunt was among those in attendance and urged the crowd to “hold on to your babies.”
“Tell them you love them,” she said. “I tell my kids the first time you are bullied will be the last time you’re bullied. Words have power.”
The investigation into Sledge’s death is ongoing.