The tragic story of a Folsom seventh-grader who committed suicide after suffering what family and friends called bullying has spread worldwide and prompted a fundraising campaign and Facebook page devoted to remembering him.
Ronin Shimizu, 12, who had been home-schooled over the last year in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, committed suicide on Wednesday at home.
Ronin’s parents, Brandon and Danielle Shimizu, said in a statement that their lives have changed forever. They expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support.
“Ronin was one of the most loving, compassionate, empathetic, artistic and funny kids to grace this earth,” they said.
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His story of being bullied for years, with some remarks directed at his participation in cheerleading, has appeared in the London-based Daily Mail, the New York Daily News and across social media.
A Ronin Shimizu memorial fundraising effort began Saturday at GoFundMe.com and had raised more than $8,000 by Monday evening. Mourners shared condolences on a community Facebook page, Ronin’s Voice.
Ronin was a child “not afraid to follow his heart,” his parents said, “and we did everything in our power to allow him to pursue his passions while protecting him from the minority that could not understand the specialness he possessed.”
Ronin loved to be a cheerleader, they said, and loved art, fashion, being a Scout and most recently crew/rowing.
“It is true that because of his specialness, Ronin was a target of bullying by individuals that could not understand or accept his uniqueness. Ronin was not just a target of bullying because of his participation in cheer, but for him just being Ronin,” they said.
The school district issued its own statement over the weekend.
“Hearts continue to ache throughout our school communities over the tragic loss of young Ronin Shimizu. Please continue to keep his family, friends and loved ones in your thoughts and prayers during this terribly difficult time,” wrote Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt.
“As we all process our shock and sadness, our school district has understandably received many questions about how we address bullying in our schools.”
Spokesman Daniel Thigpen said the district is getting feedback from the community about bullying and reviewing bullying episodes involving Ronin when he was a sixth-grader at Folsom Middle School in 2013.
“We are very moved by the outpouring of support from the community,” Thigpen said. He said the conversation about bullying needs to continue with both the district and community members to tackle bullying wherever it occurs, even if it’s not on campus.
“They are still our students,” he said. “We want to make sure they are free from bullying in their classroom and extracurricular activities ... both on and off campus.”
Thigpen said last week that instances of bullying against Ronin had been reported in recent years. “I can tell you we looked into each one of them and investigated them fully and took appropriate action for each instance.”
He said Monday that the district “is taking this opportunity to see how we respond to all the cases of bullying in recent years so we can have all the information we need to respond moving forward.”
Ronin, who turned 12 in June, was enrolled at Folsom Cordova Community Charter School. Students there study independently at home and pursue the curriculum from the district. Teachers, parents and students meet every two weeks at Sutter Middle School.
He was a cheerleading member of the Vista Jr. Eagles, which has both cheer and football teams. Though not a school district organization, the Eagles call themselves the “official feeder program to Vista Del Lago High School,” one of the area’s many youth programs that prepare students for high school football and cheerleading squads.
Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.