Disabled Pickering boy took his own life after he was mugged and bullied
September 26, 2011
Brendan Kennedy - The Star, Toronto
By his 11th birthday, Mitchell Wilson had already endured a lifetime of pain.
He was 8 when his mother died of cancer three years ago.
The next year he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a degenerative and incurable disease that was slowly destroying his muscles and would one day leave him paralyzed.
And last November, while on one of his prescribed daily walks, Mitchell was jumped by a 12-year-old boy he knew from his elementary school in Pickering. The older child, who was after the iPhone Mitchell borrowed from his father to listen to music while he walked, smashed Mitchell’s face into the pavement so hard he broke some of the boy’s teeth.
The attack, Mitchell’s parents say, led their son on a downward spiral which culminated in his suicide earlier this month.
“He was never the same after the mugging,” said Mitchell’s father, Craig Wilson, who found his son’s lifeless body on Sept. 6 — a plastic bag tied around the young boy’s head — when he went to wake him up for what would have been his first day of Grade 6. “Ultimately it shattered his life.”
The alleged mugger was arrested the day after the attack, charged with assault and removed from Westcreek Public School.
But the older boy’s friends remained, and they blamed Mitchell for getting their friend in trouble — following him home from school and taunting him about his slow and laboured gait.
Meanwhile, the spectre of the attack continued to haunt Mitchell, who had grown fearful of walking alone and began to suffer severe anxiety and panic attacks.
While there is no known cure for muscular dystrophy, one of the treatments is to stay as active as possible to delay the deterioration of muscles; inactivity accelerates their ruin.
Once a proud stroller, Mitchell walked less and less. His mobility decreased and he needed more help to accomplish tasks that had once been easy.
For the first time in his life, his father says, Mitchell was beginning to foresee a time when he could no longer walk. “That in turn created more depression, more anxiety.”
Mitchell became prone to uncharacteristic emotional outbursts, fights with his parents and temper tantrums.
When a few weeks after the alleged attack he said he would rather kill himself than continue to go to school, Wilson and Mitchell’s stepmother, Tiffany Usher, sought counselling and psychiatric treatment.
But their son would not open up about his feelings and treatments were unsuccessful.
As the summer wore on, Mitchell became increasingly anxious.
The start of a new school year is an especially high-risk time for youth and teen suicide, which remains the second-leading cause of death for Canadians aged 10 to 24.
Christopher Howell, a 17-year-old Hamilton student, killed himself two days after Mitchell following years of being bullied, according to his mother.
But Wilson is reluctant to attribute his son’s suicide to any single factor.
He thinks Mitchell had post-traumatic stress — exacerbated by the bullying — as well as a deepening depression about his disability.
“It was a combination of everything that ultimately caused Mitchell to take his own life.”
Wilson is also hesitant to blame Westcreek Public School for the torment his son suffered. The principal removed the accused mugger as soon as he was charged, and paired Mitchell up with an older student mentor to protect him.
“But schools can always do more for disabled kids,” Wilson added, shrugging.
On Labour Day, hours before Mitchell killed himself, he was served with a subpoena to testify against his alleged assailant on Sept. 28. Mitchell was terrified of having to face the other boy in court, his father says.
Now the charges may be dropped because Mitchell can no longer testify. Wilson and his wife say they have been told by the Crown’s office it is unlikely the case will go ahead without Mitchell.
Although they have little faith in the justice system, they are hoping for a compromise: in exchange for the charges to be dropped, they want the accused boy to be ordered to do community service for people with disabilities and — most importantly — be forced to listen to their victim-impact statements.
“I need this kid to understand the impact he’s had on this family . . . I want him to choose a different route than the one he’s on, a different path in life.”
Wilson is also hoping that by speaking to the media, visiting schools and telling Mitchell’s story he can prevent other kids from being bullied and educate people about what it’s like to live with a disability.
“Ultimately everybody has to be nicer to each other.”