Bullying or Criminal Assault? 12-year-old Bailey O’Neill Dies After Being Taken Off Life Support

Posted March 4, 2013 by

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Bullying victim Bailey O’Neill died Sunday, from injuries sustained while being beaten on a school playground in suburban Philadelphia. He suffered a broken nose and a concussion that caused subsequent seizures, which forced doctors to put him into a medically-induced coma in January. Yesterday Bailey was taken off life support.

On Saturday, Bailey turned 12. I cannot imagine the horror and grief his family is experiencing right now — heartbreak no parents should ever have to go through. I cannot imagine what all the other students, the teachers and school administrators at Bailey’s school are feeling, either. How will they possibly feel safe about going to school today, or tomorrow?

I cannot believe this happened, again. Another child gone. I hesitate to call this a “bullying” incident, because this 6th grade boy was, in truth, beaten to death by his peers.

It’s time to think about what the word bullying means. Are we doing kids a disservice by calling these actions by something else than they really are? What we are talking about here is human cruelty, our capacity to hurt others verbally or physically. Why don’t we start by calling this incident what it really was — criminal assault?

I don’t know what the answer is here, and to be honest, I don’t have advice to offer. I just want to say to all parents and children who are being attacked at school, either physically or verbally, you are not alone. There has to be something else we can do to stop this abuse. Right now, we are failing as a society at protecting our kids. There has got to be something we can do as a community — a national community — to change this.

Not only is this problem not going away, schools seem to be the place where it most frequently occurs. As bullying prevention expert Peggy Moss says, “As we try to stomp out bullying case by case, we’re missing the big picture: the breeding grounds…. We need to direct our attention to the climate of our schools, and give educators and students the tools they need to turn schools into safe places for learning.”

Because until we change the habitat that breeds “bullying” behavior, this isn’t going to go away.

Read more: Bullying: We’re talking about the problem, but is it going away?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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