Courtesy Cornelia Reynolds(CINCINNATI) — The superintendent of a Cincinnati public school district is disputing claims that 8-year-old Gabriel Taye was bullied at school before he hanged himself at home.
In a recent interview with ABC News affiliate WCPO-TV, Cincinnati Public Schools superintendent Mary Ronan rejected a family attorney’s claim that surveillance video captures Gabriel being bullied in a school bathroom.
“That is a falsehood. When you look at the video, we see no link between bullying and the suicide. If you look at the video — and we have, frame by frame — it appears the young man fainted,” Ronan told WCPO-TV on Thursday.
Cincinnati Public Schools released on May 12 the surveillance video recorded Jan. 24 outside a boys’ bathroom at Carson School. The blurry and choppy footage shows Gabriel walking into the bathroom around the 13-minute mark. As he enters the restroom, Gabriel appears to shake another child’s hand and then falls to the floor.
Gabriel was unconscious for several minutes, his feet visible from the hallway surveillance camera. Students are seen entering and leaving the restroom, with some stopping to look at Gabriel and nudge him.
Finally, a child summons a school staff member to the restroom, who attends to Gabriel.
According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, Gabriel’s mother, Cornelia Reynolds, took him to the hospital for vomiting that evening and kept him home from school the following day. He returned to school on Jan. 26.
That evening, two days after the alleged incident in the restroom, Gabriel hanged himself in a bedroom of his home. His mother found him, police said.
Months after the young boy’s death, Ronan is disturbed by what she says is the ongoing fallout from the incident and the family’s accusation that Gabriel’s death was due to bullying.
The superintendent said other boys who were in the restroom at the time are “traumatized” because they think they “caused his death.”
“Now, what I’m having to do is provide mental health services for the other three or four 8-year-olds in the bathroom with Gabriel because somehow now they think that they caused his death. So, now we’ve traumatized another three or four children who are at-risk,” Ronan told WCPO-TV.
She went on, “So, this whole situation is so tragic — to have lost a child — and now children for the rest of their lives may need therapy because of what they’ve been unfairly accused of and these are children with no disciplinary record who just happened to be walking into the bathroom when he collapsed.”
When contacted by ABC News for comment Friday, the superintendent reaffirmed her remarks as told to WCPO-TV and added that Gabriel told the school nurse when she arrived on scene that he had fainted.
“He never said he was bullied,” Ronan told ABC News.
Ronan reiterated her concern for the other children in the video, some of whom she said have been “harshly criticized by people who do not know them or all the facts.”
ABC News also reached out to Cincinnati Public Schools’ public affairs office for additional comment Friday but did not immediately hear back.
Gabriel’s death was initially ruled a suicide in January by the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office. On May 12, a spokesperson for the coroner’s office told ABC News the circumstances surrounding the boy’s death will be re-examined based on the newly-released surveillance video as well as a police detective’s analysis.
The Cincinnati Police Department has not filed charges in the case.
“On Jan. 26, 2017, the Cincinnati Police Department conducted an investigation into the death of Gabriel Taye. In light of the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office statement that they have reopened this death investigation, the Cincinnati Police Department does not believe it would be appropriate to comment at this time. Any questions regarding this matter should be directed to the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office,” the Cincinnati Police Department told ABC News in a statement on May 12.
Cincinnati Public Schools released a statement upon releasing the video, saying “the allegations portrayed in the media,” regarding Gabriel being bullied, aren’t supported by the footage.
“Our hearts are broken by the loss of this child, and our thoughts are with his parents and extended family. He was an outstanding young man, and this is a great loss for his family and our school community, the statement said. “In an effort to be completely transparent, we are releasing the video that was reviewed as part of an investigation by the Cincinnati Police Department. As all are aware, no charges resulted from that investigation. We have uploaded the video, in its entirety, blurring out faces of the students who appear to protect their privacy. We ask that you review the video, in its entirety. It is our firm position that the allegations portrayed in the media are not supported by the video.”
In a statement to ABC News on May 12, Reynolds called her son a “shining light to everyone who knew him and loved him.”
“We miss him desperately and suffer every day. His life was not only stolen from him, but from those of us who expected to watch him grow up and enjoy life. If I could, I would give anything to have him back. I feel he was cheated. I feel robbed. My only child, my best friend and my first true love isn’t here with us physically but I know he’s here in spirit,” the mother said in the statement.
Jennifer Branch, an attorney for the boy’s family, said Gabriel’s mother had not been told of the alleged incident in the boys’ bathroom. Reynolds had been told her son had fainted, according to Branch.
“There needs to be a lot more response in that school to what is going on and the parents need to know what’s going on. I think that’s a very big component,” Branch told WCPO-TV on May 11.
Carla Leader, another attorney for the family, said it’s unclear from the video whether Gabriel hit his head on the wall or the floor and if that ultimately knocked him out. Leader said the footage shows other students pointing at Gabriel, laughing and kicking him before a school staff member revives the boy.
“Gabe comes in and reaches out to shake his hand and gets pulled to the ground and he lays there unconscious for about seven-and-a-half minutes,” Leader told WCPO-TV on May 11.
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