School probes bullying, suicide of Ala. boy

BIRMINGHAM, AL (AP) - Tre'Juan Figures wasn't a particularly big boy at age 12, and relatives say the middle school student had become a target for bullies and others who were trying to force him to join a gang.

Authorities on Friday were trying to determine whether it was months of harassment or something else that prompted the east Alabama boy to go into his bedroom closet and hang himself using shirts he tied together.

Relatives said they had reported the boy's harassment complaints to school officials in Anniston, where the boy everyone called "Trey" went to school. The superintendent said the child had received past assistance but declined to elaborate.

Coroner Pat Brown, who ruled the boy's death a suicide, said it was hard to determine exactly what might lead a child so young to take his own life, but relatives told authorities he was a victim of persistent bullying.

"Twelve years old is way too young," Brown said.

Johnny Figures, Trey's father, said children at Anniston Middle School and in the neighborhood had been trying to force Trey to join a gang.

"They'd jump on him, take his lunch money, threaten him," Figures told The Anniston Star in a story Friday. "It got to the point he didn't want to get on the bus and he'd miss it on purpose."

Joan Frazier, superintendent of Anniston's city schools, said administrators didn't know of any habitual problem involving bullying or gang recruitment.

"We at times gets bits and pieces of things that come in from the community. We are on the watch for that. But this hit us completely unaware," Frazier said.

Frazier said Trey received "some support" from schools in years past, but she declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality laws. No adults noticed anything unusual at school the day of his death, she said.

"Absolutely nothing happened," said Frazier. "He wasn't sent to the office, there was nothing overt. But we're still digging through this."

An investigation by school officials is revealing some "commonality of information" about what may have happened to Trey, Frazier said, but she wouldn't reveal what discussions with teachers and others had revealed.

Meanwhile, the boy's relatives grieved.

"I'm trying to keep myself strong to get through the funeral tomorrow," said his grandmother, Essie Figures.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.