Birmingham 9-year-old takes her own life; family hopes to spare others their pain
A Birmingham family is grieving the loss of a 9-year-old girl who died Monday after she intentionally hanged herself in her bedroom closet three days earlier.
Madison “Maddie” Whittsett, a fourth-grader who is being remembered for her joyful heart and love of others, was pronounced dead at Children’s of Alabama Monday morning. Her mother, Eugenia Williams, and stepfather, Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service Lt. Jimmie Williams, said they hope that by speaking out about Maddie’s tragic death will spare others the pain they have experienced since Friday.
“We don’t want this to happen to anyone else,’’ Lt. Williams said.
Maddie arrived home from school Friday afternoon and quickly learned her mom had made plans for the two of them to go to Chick-fil -A for some mommy-daughter time. “Maddie loved Chick-fil-A and she was running through the house,’’ Lt. Williams said. “Her mom called me, and we talked for a second. Then one of her friends called and they were talking.”
Maddie’s mom then yelled for Maddie to get ready, they were going to leave shortly. She glanced outside – in the front yard and on the deck – but didn’t see her.
Eugenia Williams went back to her daughter’s bedroom and saw the television was on. She looked in the bed and didn’t see Maddie and that’s when she noticed a crack in Maddie’s closet door. The little girl didn’t like for her closet to be open, so her mother immediately went and looked inside and that’s when she found her daughter unresponsive.
Still on the phone with her friend, she dropped the phone, got Maddie down, screamed for her friend to call 911 and then started CPR on Maddie. Maddie was taken to St. Vincent’s East to get her stabilized and a helicopter was brought in to transport her to Children’s, but the weather prevented the air flight.
Maddie was later transported to Children’s where she remained on life support until Monday.
Lt. Williams said the family is shocked by Maddie’s suicide. “It came out of left field,’’ he said.
Her mother agreed. “She was so alive, energetic, funny, loved dance,’’ she said.
Maddie had ADHD and received one-on-one help at school. There had been incidents, Lt. Williams said, where other children had called her “stupid” and “dumb.” It had happened last year, but Maddie’s parents met with the principal and said it had been taken care of. “I felt like we took care of it,’’ he said.
The family didn’t want to publicly identify the school Maddie was attending. “The school has been very supportive,’’ Lt. Williams said.
“We talked to one of her friends and Maddie had apparently had a bad day. The friend said Maddie was bullied and she looked sad while she was being bullied,’’ Lt. Williams said. “It must have really worn her out that day.”
Maddie just several weeks ago started a medication with a listed side effect of possibly causing suicidal thoughts. “The bullying plus the medicine, I think, gave her the boost to do that,’’ he said.
Lt. Williams said in 20 years as a firefighter, he’s never seen a child so young take their own life. It’s nearly impossible for him to wrap his head around what happened. “It’s hard,’’ he said.
The Williams want others to keep a closer eye on their own children. “Maybe you can see if anything is going on. Look for changes in attitude. Changes in behavior,’’ he said. “Support them and be there for them.”
They also want children to be aware of the dangers of bullying. Lt. Williams said it’s important for children to know that not only should they not bully others, but if they see someone being bullied, they need to let an adult know. “Like they always say, ‘If you see something, say something.’’’
Birmingham City Schools released this statement Tuesday afternoon: “Our school community is deeply saddened by the recent passing of a student. Counselors and district-level support staff, trained to help students, parents and school personnel at difficult times such as this, have been on-site at the impacted school today to provide assistance to students and staff in needed of support in processing this tragedy. The death of any young person is a tragic loss that impacts the whole school community, and we send our deepest condolences to the family.”
Lt. Williams described his stepdaughter as having a wonderful heart. “She just wanted to be your friend. She wanted to be everybody’s friend and wanted everyone to be happy,’’ he said. “We saw that in everything she did.”
Here are warning signs to watch for if you fear someone is suicidal and resources that can help those thinking of harming themselves or who fear a loved one might harm themselves.
· Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself.
· Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means.
· Talking or writing about death, dying, ”ending the pain” or suicide.
· Feeling hopeless.
· Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities – seemingly without thinking.
· Feeling trapped – like there’s no way out.
· Increasing alcohol or drug use.
· Withdrawing from friends, family, social support and society.
· Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time.
· Experiencing significant mood changes.
· Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life.
· Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge.
HOW TO HELP
· Ask the person directly if he or she is having suicidal thoughts, has a plan to do so, and has access to lethal means.