San Diego 14-year-old committed suicide over a viral video, parents say

SAN DIEGO - A San Diego family said a video taken of their son in a school bathroom went viral and he was bullied so badly over it that he committed suicide.

The family turned to Scripps sister station Team 10 to tell their story after getting stonewalled by the school. Their son killed himself in November.

Matthew Burdette's family described the 14-year-old as happy, popular and active.

"I said to my brother first thing, this little boy has a twinkle in his eye. He just loved life," said his aunt, Laura Burdette Mechak.

Mechak agreed to talk to Team 10 about her nephew. Matthew's parents were too distraught to tell their story on camera.

His parents said something happened to the boy at his high school that changed everything.

"They told me that Matthew had killed himself. I fell on the floor, devastated. I never saw it coming," said Mechak.

The family said the boy left a letter.

"He said, I can't do school anymore. I have no friends. I don't want to kill myself but I have no friends," said Mechak.

His aunt and father brought the letter to University City High School to talk to school officials.

"We asked them specifically to please help us figure out what happened," said Mechak.

She said school officials wouldn't tell them anything about what may have caused Matthew to hate school.

"Kids came forward to help them figure out what was going on," said Mechak.

Matthew's friends told his parents about a video. They said a classmate had peered over a bathroom stall and recorded Matthew while he was at school.

They said that student then posted it on Snapchat, Vine and other sites claiming he caught Matthew masturbating.

"It went viral. It went beyond his school. It went to other schools in California. Kids in the neighborhood who didn't go to Matthew's school had heard about it and seen the video that was taken of him," said Mechak.

Allison Worden of Gomez Trial Attorneys represents the family.

"Kids saw this video and began to tease Matthew mercilessly -- they teased him, they harassed him. They made his life miserable over a two-week period," said Mechak.

His family said it was after those two weeks of bullying that Matthew took his life.

His parents went back to University City High School. They said the district knew about the video because they had launched an internal investigation.

The Burdettes said the school would not tell them if the student who had shot the video and posted it on social media outlets was disciplined.

"No one would provide them with answers," said Worden.

Worden believes the school district failed Matthew on many levels. She said a teacher had kicked the boy out of class for eating sunflower seeds and sent him out with no direction on where to go.

Worden said this left Matthew to wander the halls and end up in the bathroom.

She also said the school district failed to protect Matthew under the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 and the California Safe Place Act.

The San Diego Unified School District refused an on-camera interview and has not answered any of Team 10's questions regarding the incident.

The Burdettes went to the San Diego Police Department. They said the boy who took the video confessed and was arrested.

The case was forwarded to the District Attorney's office.

"The Burdettes made contact with the DA and again, after that first call, their questions fell on deaf ears," said Worden.

The San Diego Unified School District refused an on-camera interview, but did answer some of Team 10's questions early Monday afternoon.

The questions and answers are below, and the district was planning to release a statement later Monday afternoon, which will be posted in this story as soon as it's received.

1.  What disciplinary actions were taken against the student who admitted to police and school officials to taking the video of Matthew  Burdette inside the bathroom at UCHS in November of 2013?

District response: Issues regarding student discipline are confidential.

 2.  Did the school district know about the video circulating on snap  chat, vine, and other social media taken of Burdette in the school¹s bathroom before his death?

District response: No.

3.  What actions did the school district take following the death of Matthew Burdette? For example, was there a seminar about suicide or  bullying for the student body or counselors available after his death?

District response: On Dec. 17, all University City High School students were invited to attend assemblies on the topic of teen suicide. Parents could request that their child not attend the assembly.  The school hosted an informational meeting about teen suicide that same night for parents and community members. The information at the assemblies and meeting was general in nature and not about any particular incident.

They said there is a hearing for the matter on July 23.

Burdette's mother wrote a letter to the School Board asking for answers.

"Within 30 minutes the Board of Education president called them saying he knew nothing of this. He was outraged," said Mechak.

Kevin Beiser, The Board of Education President, wrote the following email to the Burdettes:

"We discussed at length in closed session and are waiting to hear from the DA. Staff is also going to recommend district policy changes regarding issues like this."

The Burdettes emailed back asking if the school district took action against the boy who took the video.

"They've never heard anything since," said Mechak.

That's when the family decided to get Matthew's story out there. They are hoping for answers, changes and to get through to other kids.

"I don't have hatred for the kid who took this video. He was a dumb kid who did a dumb thing. But these kids don't get it. They don't realize how big the cyber bullying world is," said Mechak.

The Burdettes have filed a claim against the San Diego Unified School District and have six months to file a lawsuit.


SUICIDE PREVENTION (24-HOUR HOTLINE)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

BULLYING RESOURCES
StopBullying.org | Dealing with bullying | The BULLY Project

Print this article Back to Top

Comments
Your Region News
West Valley Phoenix Metro Southeast Valley Northeast Valley Northern Arizona Central/Southern AZ