Abeg Kon should be just over a month into her grade 11 year at St. Gabriel the Archangel School in Chestermere, Alta. Instead, her grief-stricken family members are left searching for answers and channeling their pain towards change in hopes of preventing others students from going through the bullying they say she endured from other students.
The day before the 15-year-old was to start a new school year, she took her own life. Her family believes bullying was to blame.
“Sometimes they would gang up on her and you know call her names like she stinks or they'd pick on her and laugh at her in the hallways," said older sister Anok Kon. "There was even one account where somebody had witnessed her being pushed into the locker."
More than 3,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the Calgary Catholic School District, which St. Gabriel is a part of, to implement stricter policies to prevent bullying, including stricter punishments and more in-class discussion about the effects of bullying on mental health.
“I trusted that the school would take care of my daughter,” said Angelo Kon, Abeg’s father, who was a teacher in his home country of South Sudan where teachers were like ‘second parents."
As loved ones push for changes there are still a lot of unanswered questions related to Abeg’s death, including if CCSD has completed a review or plans on it.
CCSD has repeatedly denied interview requests from CTV News, instead issuing the same statement provided in September reading in part ‘…reports of bullying are taken very seriously.
"Hurtful behaviour of any kind is not tolerated within our schools," it continued. "We strongly encourage all our students and parents to come forward if they experience any kind of harassment or bullying. We work with all our families as well as the CPS or RCMP if needed to address any ongoing concerns.”
Officers not informed
RCMP told CTV News officers weren’t informed about Abeg’s case and despite an anti-bullying by-law in the community, the deputy mayor doesn’t believe peace officers were alerted either.
‘We haven’t actually punished anyone in terms of enforcement because we believe in education over enforcement and we feel that education is working," said Ritesh Narayan, Chestermere's deputy mayor.
Under the bylaw, a bully can avoid court by writing an apology letter and attending anti-bullying awareness courses.
Since being implemented in June 2019 the city’s peace officers have counted nine bully files, which includes both children and adults.
Narayan told CTV News officers won’t be reviewing Abeg’s death.
“The matter was given to the RCMP to investigate. I have a lot of confidence in the work they do and I will stand by that, whatever outcome there is they will do a proper job of investigating,” said Narayan.
Non-criminal in nature
Mounties did respond to the sudden death call in September, which was ultimately determined to be non-criminal in nature, which means the police investigation ends there.
Calgary police officer and president of the organization ‘ Bullying Ends Here’, Tad Milmine, pointed to the Criminal Code of Canada, which outlines offenses and potential punishments if someone is found guilty.
"In a school when it comes to bullying, there isn’t anything listing what the next step is going to be," said Milmine.
A fatality inquiry, meant to look at the circumstances surrounding a person’s death to prevent others, could potentially take place but it doesn’t happen automatically and can be recommended by the medical examiner, justice minister or requested by the family.
It’s rare but they have happened in Canada linked to bullying-related suicides.
Allegations of race-related bullying surface
Abeg Kon’s story has led to two former students from the same school to come forward with racially related bullying allegations.
Stephanie Sargeant attended St. Gabriel the Archangel school from 2007 to 2015 and says she found herself a target because of the colour of her skin.
“I was drawn as a monkey. I was referred to as the n-word,” the university student said.
CTV News is concealing the identity of the second former student because even after moving across the country to escape bullying, she remains worried about online attacks.
“They would say racial remarks like saying the n-word, saying go back to your country even though I’m Canadian,” the teen said.
Her mother doesn’t believe the school district did enough to protect her daughter while studying at the CCSD school in Chestermere between 2016 and 2018.
The Calgary Catholic School District wouldn’t directly address any of these allegations, instead providing the same statement it did when CTV News first started asking questions about Abeg’s death.
There appears to be no single solution to bullying.
“Schools have a role to play but there is only so much a school can do without the assistance of all the parties involved including the parents," said Milmine, who suggests parents ask questions, take note of changes in behaviour and keep an eye on their children’s computers and cell phones.
The Kon family too hope questions will continue to be asked about how a 15-year-old took her own life, the role bullying played in that and why no changes are even remotely close to be being made, so that children at risk can be made to feel safe.
The Bullying Helpline can be reached by calling 1-888-456-2323, or go to a bullying supports website.