The narrative of Folsom 12-year-old Ronin Shimizu is now achingly familiar.
A child who is different from the pack in some way is bullied. It doesn’t matter how they’re different. The child’s parents complain, or, in Ronin’s case, try to shield him by homeschooling him. The child commits suicide.
In our new social media culture, the harassment takes on exponentially larger dimensions. It isn’t just teasing, it isn’t just getting shoved around in the locker room, it’s Facebook postings, Twitter gossip and Instagram.
The adolescent commentary has all sorts of new avenues to create pain for a child who doesn’t deserve it. In Ronin’s case, he was a boy who was a cheerleader for his school, a boy who liked fashion and art and was, by many accounts, bearing up well under the almost unimaginable stress of being targeted for that.
“If he was a sad kid, he didn’t show it,” a girl named McKenna Quinn, who was in a rowing club with Ronin, said at the Folsom High School event where Ronin was remembered.
Josh Meixner, a family friend of the Shimuzu’s and an assistant wrestling coach, noted that his “family was supportive 100 percent.” Thank God for that, at least.
Meixner saw that Ronin was better at “cheerleading than some of the girls out there. It was almost like second nature to him – the somersaults and the handsprings – but they teased him so bad.”
Exhausted from the haranguing, Ronin quit in April. It should be noted that former President George W. Bush was a cheerleader, too. It should be OK for a boy to be a cheerleader and not suffer the social terrorism that Ronin endured. You wonder who raised the children who made sure it wasn’t.
Ronin bore up for a while. Then he killed himself.
We don’t know Ronin’s psychological makeup, or every detail of his tragic story. We do know the pain and confusion that arise in adolescence – this is a 12-year-old, remember – and that, for Ronin, this was compounded by vicious abuse, for years.
Imagine yourself in his position: You are surrounded by people who hate you and make fun of you. How would you react? Like a hunted animal, a pariah. You would be depressed, afraid. You would feel isolated and look for a safe haven.
Ronin looked for safe haven at the Folsom Cordova Community Charter. He looked at Sutter Middle School, too, after his parents moved him there to escape the taunting.
The educational system is far better now at dealing with this circumstance than it was decades ago, where the child was at the mercy of the wolf pack. Congress and the Legislature have passed significant anti-bullying legislation. There are school personnel who can track and counsel the children who suffer the onslaught of a “Lord of the Flies” dynamic.
Folsom Cordova school officials are planning a full analysis of what happened, in the hope that there won’t be another Ronin. The national and international attention that Ronin’s death brought once again shines a light on bullying, and that may help.
But it hasn’t gotten better enough, and our society hasn’t, either. It isn’t enough simply to hope boys and girls like Ronin will survive these Darwinian scenarios that we keep putting up with. He was, his parents said, “one of the most loving, compassionate, artistic, empathetic and funny kids to grace this Earth.”
The world could use more people like that. Who knows what he could have grown up to be?
Now we won’t.