Bradford Fernandez was only 14 years old when he took his life on January 21, 2011. He had (and still has) many friends who love him and miss him deeply and have suffered much as a result of his death. He was in 8th grade and attended Westpine Middle School.
He was the smallest of four children; he grew up in a home full of love, along with his brother and sisters. As a baby, I would give him "butterfly and Eskimo kisses." He and his brother and sisters loved it. He had an amazing laughter and dimples when he smiled. If you visit our Family Album, you will see how happy he was. Extremely intelligent, by 3rd Grade, I was informed by his teacher that he had read all the Harry Potter Books in class. I remember picking him up after school that day and telling him how proud I was of him and how he surprised me; he just smiled. I keep the beautiful Mother's Day Card, which he made in school, on my piano next to his picture.
He dreamed about going to the Marines and living in Alaska. He talked about getting married and having children. I would joke around with him, and his siblings, of how I would "spoil" my future grandchildren with chocolate and candies and then send them back home. We would all laugh at the idea. He was looking forward to joining JROTC in 9th grade and told me once "Mom, let me enjoy my hair since I'm going to shave it off when I go to Piper High." He never made it to High School.
His popularity in elementary school followed him into middle school. Bradford was the type of person who, according to his friends, didn't have to study much for tests. His FCAT scores were usually 4.5 to 5. He was placed in Gem Math Class, which is the advanced math level class in middle school, during 7th Grade, in spite of his "complaining" about the amount of work the class involved and choosing not to do his best. He would walk into class, take a test, and get A's and B's. He was an extremely bright and intelligent young man. Even his school counselor of 8th grade commented to me how intelligent he was, as well as how warm he was with everyone.
At the beginning of 2010, his attitude at home changed. He became defiant. I was concerned about him purposefully failing the Gem Math Class mid school year 2010. I took him to see a psychiatrist, June 2010. The psychiatrist asked him if he wanted to harm himself, or others, and Bradford answered a very firm "NO." The psychiatrist initially diagnosed him Oppositional Defiant Disorder; he advised me that I needed to be firm with my consequences, these needed to be consistent, measurable, and ones that I could live with. In addition, we also consulted a therapist who came home to visit with Bradford, approximately five times. Each time, Bradford refused to speak with her. Bradford assured me that he was fine and didn't see the need, or wanted to, continue with therapy. His behavior slightly improved at the beginning of the 8th grade school year becoming manageable. He passed Gem Math Class. I remember asking him, in July, 2010, what would make him happy. His answer was "I can fix myself, mom." When I spoke with others about his comments then, we all thought that he was referring to "straightening up." Since he was extremely intelligent, we all felt that he recognized his negative behavior at home and made a commitment to change for the better. Eigth grade began and his interim report indicated improvement; his behavior at home also improved. I spoke with the 8th grade school counselor at Westpine, after his death, to determine if there were any behavior problems; I was told none. There were no behavior problems with Bradford, no detentions, no referrals; he was a well behaved teenager at school. At home, we all believed he was making progress.
His suicide came as a shock to us, his close friends (except for 2) and our community. Every day after my son's death, I've asked myself "What happened that night? How could I have missed the signs? What did I fail to see?" The night before he appeared to be fine, texting on his phone and writing on Face Book. I participated in Parenting Coaching Classes with the Broward Mental Health Association for many months during 2007; my children all participated in Smith Community Mental Health Association, specializing in behavior modification programs for children and teens, as part of their Respite and After School Program. Ours is a family that stresses accountability, respect, responsibility, sacredness of life and a belief in a higher power. We lived in a safe area and owned our home; my children were surrounded by friends they loved. We were an average family. What went wrong that now my 14 year old son, my baby, killed himself? He did not leave a note. I kept asking myself, and still do, what happened? We were shocked to find out what happened that night.
We discovered after his death that the night before he died he was engaged in a suicide chat with two friends. Bradford told both of his friends he was going to kill himself that night. None of them called the police. Bradford told the first friend, referred to as "Ipod," at approximately 9'ish pm on January 20th of his intent to kill himself. He was specific with this friend. You can see some of the responses, from Ipod, by clicking here. The police never told us the identity of Ipod. Although the messages from Ipod to Bradford seemed responsible, Ipod failed to call the police. The second friend was a female; we can refer to her as "Friend B." She chatted with Bradford from 10:52 pm until he died, 3:33 am, January 21st. She called him a couple of times during the night as well. Her first text message to him was "please dont, that would kill me." Although their suicide chat continued for the rest of the night until he died, her text messages subtly changed from "trying to convince him" to comforting him in his last moments. To view her text messages to him, please click here. Her text messages are perfect examples of what NOT to say, or do, when confronted by a suicidal person.
We also found out, by her own statement (Friend B), that she "told her mother" on January 20th, at approximately 11 pm, but her mother "did not believe" her." Friend B believes that she tried all she "could to help him." Her belief is rooted in ignorance. She failed to acknowledge, and still does that her best action would have been to call the police as soon as Bradford told her, or call my oldest son, who was 16 years at the time, since she had his phone number. Instead, the police provided evidence that she texted my oldest son to "check on your brother," at 4:20 am. It was too late; Bradford had been dead for approximately 50 minutes by then. The police also discovered 23 death drawings, kept by Bradford in his drawer, made by Friend B for Bradford during the course of the last year of ways to "kill" him. Click here to see some of the drawings. In addition to the 23 "deathnotes" found by the police, we found three more inside his school folder, the last one being December 1st, on his birthday making it a total of 26 death drawings. Friend B claims it was "a joke" between her and my son. In addition to death notes, Friend B posted violent comments to Bradford on his Face Book wall, along the lines of killing him and posted a disturbing, extremely violent video with a comment "I should do this to you". Click here to see some of her Face Book comments. These are only a few of her comments. There are many more disturbing messages made by her to Bradford during the last 12 months of his life. These are actual print screen copies of his Facebook wall statuses and her comments taken last year (February-June, 2011), from the date of his death back to January, 2010. I have the originals. No one is laughing anymore. My son is now dead.
My goal is that by you reading what happened to Bradford, I can share with you the painful lessons it has left behind. Maybe the story of my son will help you with your child one day; maybe you can help someone else with their child by noticing similarities and educating yourself, and others, on Suicide Prevention. Teens: Death drawings, consistent joking about dying or wanting to kill someone, suicidal music, being emo, and hateful messages, only serve to encourage a person who wants to die. If you think I am wrong, I implore you to look at what happened to Bradford. I wonder how much did the continual conversations about Bradford dying, and the "death jokes," actually feed his suicidal urges. Whether you are a parent reading our story, or a teenager, the lessons are very simple. If you are confronted with a suicidal friend, do not play therapist. Listen to the person, stay with them while you get them the help they need by calling a trained professional, or the police. Here is a great Quick Reference Guide that you can download and have with you. There may be times in which you must act immediately. If so, call 911. If the person refuses help and they insist on hurting themselves, call 911. The cries for help from my son Bradford were unanswered. He trusted his friends, yet they both failed in helping him, in spite of the fact there was sufficient time to save him.
If you are faced with a suicidal person, your options are 1) call the police immediately if they tell you they are going to kill themselves, or, call one of the Suicidal hotlines (1-800-SUICIDE / 1-800-273-TALK), 2) call the parents or siblings of the suicidal person, 3) tell your teacher if you are in school, 4) call another friend you both share, who may live close by, and ask them to go and speak with the family of the suicidal friend, and 5) tell your parents. In the case of Friend B above, the parent did not believe her own child and dismissed the threat. The next step Friend B should have taken was to call the police, and, to call my oldest son since she had his phone number. Bradford did not die until 3:33 am, yet Friend B knew since 10:52 pm that my son intended on killing himself. Friend B claims that she did not think he would really kill himself. We were not provided by the police with an actual cell phone company log showing the text messages from Bradford to Friend B. The police indicated that Bradford deleted most of his sent text messages of that night to her. However, the police gave us a few of his text messages, typed by the police on plain paper, to Friend B that night. Bradford was specific with Friend B to the point of telling her it was "hard to pull the trigger."
Do not let your friend die, or someone you love die, because you feel the threat is not valid, or that they are joking. Suicide is NO JOKE. Do not let your friend die because you want to keep an "oath of secrecy," or keep your promise to him or her. Suicide is irreversible. Specially, do not let your friend die because you think and believe he or she "will be in a better place, or will be happy." THAT kind of thinking is along the lines of insanity. Death by suicide violates the sacredness of life; it leaves behind a continual trail of destruction and pain. Act, call for help and save a life. That is the biggest lesson we must take with us.
Parents, I have a special message for you. Understand - we are all connected. The death of my son did not just affect us, his family. It affected our community. There is an old African proverb that says "It takes a village to raise a child." It is important for us to get to know each other, especially if our teenagers share friendships. I wonder if the mother who failed to call the police that night would have dismissed the suicidal threat of Bradford as easily as she did, if she personally knew me, or had met me at least once. Perhaps she would have called the police that night instead of turning away. Perhaps not. I will never know. I thought I knew all the parents within the friendship circle of my children before. I was wrong. That one parent I never met, of a teenage girl I never saw, was the one parent that turned her back that night. Now, I make certain that I am familiar with all the parents of the teenagers that associate with mine. We have a moral and civil responsibility with each other, as parents and guardians of our children; there is no exception to this rule.
Also, please do not underestimate, or judge, whether your child is lying if he or she comes to you and tells you her friend is about to kill himself or herself. It is not up to you or me, unless you are a trained professional with the suicidal person in front of you, to assess what is a credible suicide threat and what is a joke. It IS up to you and me to act responsibly and call the police, or call the family of the suicidal friend. Could you live the rest of your life knowing that someone died, by suicide, because you failed to act in a responsible manner? Again, CALL THE POLICE, and let them handle the situation. It is better to look foolish, and apologize later, then to realize that someone died because you failed to act. Call for help. Tomorrow, it could be your child, or someone you know and love, that is suicidal. How would you expect others to react then?
Lastly, it is so obvious that we lack, in our community and our schools, the education and training we need to confront and eradicate Suicide from our society. My final message to you is a call to action. I am asking you to get involved and help us advocate Suicide Prevention Education and Training in our schools and with families. Please visit our Suicide Prevention link and the Schools link to find out how you can get involved. Every child that dies by suicide, as Bradford did, represents all the precious lives that have been lost because of hopelessness. Each one could have been saved if a) he or she was given the right education about depression, how to get help and treatment, and b) having everyone in our community (parents, teens, schools) trained in detecting the early warning signs of Suicide and what to do if confronted with a Suicidal person. Suicide can be prevented, and even eradicated. My son was provided with the opportunity to get help. Unfortunately, he refused it. However, he did give very clear signs of his intent that night to kill himself to his friends. His distress signals went unanswered. I believe my son would still be alive if at least one of his friends would have been educated in how to react and what to do when faced with a suicidal person.
Make a difference; save a life; be a hero. Suicide Prevention begins with each of us individually. Please do your part and get involved. Visit the link Contact Us and help us get started. The life you could be saving tomorrow could be one of your own. Thank you for reading our story.
Do you know what nomel means? I didn't for two years. A few days before my son's death, I remember asking him "Bradford, what is nomel? Please just tell me!" Bradford looked at me and said, "Mom, you just got to figure it out." Send me an email at email@example.com if you want to know what NOMEL means.
Oath of Guardianship
"My friend, I love you. I promise to always watch over you even during your darkest moments; if you need help, I will make sure to find help for you, even if you ask me not to. I promise to not honor any bonds that will ultimately hurt you in any way; it's for your own good. Understand, as a loving friend, it is my responsibility to watch over you. I promise not to let you think that your life is worthless and to dishonor you. YOU MATTER TO ME AND TO THE WORLD; YOU ARE WORTHY OF GOD'S LOVE AND LIFE."
Bradford's Pledge, written by Ana Fernandez
January 21, 2011