Cindy Marchant knows the pain of losing a child
Ever since the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, Cindy Marchant has had some sleepless nights.
She knows the pain of losing a child and recognizes the despair and hopelessness of the youngster who feels like an outcast among his classmates.
It all came together in a horrible few hours last week when two teen-agers at the Littleton, Colo., high school shot to death 12 students and a teacher before turning their weapons on themselves.
Last June, Marchant’s 13-year-old son Eric committed suicide just after he completed the 7th grade at Carson Valley Middle School.
After his death, his parents found out the extent of the teasing and harassment he endured from his classmates. Since Eric’s death, Cindy and her husband Larry have worked in the community to help children and parents who might be experiencing circumstances similar to those that surrounded Eric.
“I feel like very major common denominators came together in all these shootings,” Marchant said. “There was the teasing, the kids who had trouble fitting in, the adolescent boys.”
Marchant said she doesn’t think Eric would have ever joined the so-called “trench-coat mafia,” the group of students whose members included the two boys who committed the shootings in Colorado.
“But I can understand how kids get sucked up in these groups,” she said. “They are so vulnerable.”
Marchant said parents and other adults need to set the standard for tolerance.
Eric’s troubles started early, she said, and adults were occasionally responsible. She recalled when Eric was in 4th grade and a member of the swim team adults would comment on his weight or speed. He never heard those comments, but the Marchants did.
She said some of the swim team members bullied him in the locker room, hiding his belongings and snapping him with their towels until he had welts.
– The daily routine. When Eric got to middle school, the harassment became part of the daily routine.
“I know he had a really hard time,” she said. “From what I am hearing, it was every day. When I ask the kids, ‘Why?’, they say it became the thing to do.”
Marchant and her husband, Larry, channeled their grief into working with the Yellow Ribbon Program, a Colorado-based outreach created by a couple whose son also killed himself. The Marchants, with community support, brought the program to Douglas County earlier this year, distributing hundreds of cards which outline what adolescents – or anyone – can do to get help if they, a friend or a family member feel suicidal or just need someone to talk to.
“From what I understand, the cards have been used a lot since the Colorado shootings,” Marchant said.
Marchant said she can sympathize, too, with the parents of the boys accused of murdering their classmates.
“People are asking, ‘How could they miss this?’ in their sons. They said the same thing about us, too, regarding Eric. We missed something very big in our own home.”
She said Eric went to a great deal of trouble to spare his parents what he was going through.
“If there isn’t any evidence, the signs can be missed,” she said.
Marchant said students can help by looking out for each other.
– Look out for each other. “It’s almost up to the kids more than the parents. They have to look out for each other and be telling an adult if they see something. I don’t want to place a lot of blame on the school personnel. The teachers and staff can’t be everywhere. A lot of Eric’s friends are telling me know they wish they had said something.”
Marchant disagreed with the theory that kids have always been teased or picked on.
“When I was a teen-ager, the worst thing anybody called me was ‘freckle-face.’ Maybe you called somebody ‘metal-mouth’ if they wore braces or ‘four-eyes’ if they had glasses. Now, the comments are vicious. They’re making comments about boys’ and girls’ sexuality and what their bodies look like. It’s very mean and very cruel.”
If you are the parent of a youngster who likes to bully and harass others, Marchant said, it’s important to find out what your child is lacking in his or her own life that results in attacking another student. If your youngster is a victim, Marchant recommends contacting the school.
If she had another chance with Eric, Marchant said she would go to the middle school to attempt to resolve his problems.
“He didn’t want me to go to school,” she said. “If I had it to do over again, I would go even if Eric didn’t want me to go. Look what I lost by trying to follow his wishes.”
She also discounts the theory that suicide is the coward’s way out.
“It took a lot of courage for Eric to get up every morning, get dressed, go to school and walk through those doors at CVMS,” she said.