Parents fear 12-year-old daughter's death is result of bullying

By  | 

ABERDEEN, S.D. Kenda Hoff was a 12-year-old Holgate Middle School student who took her own life Friday night. Her parents believe her death may have been the result of constant torment from a bully. KSFY's Kayleigh Schmidt tells us about Kenda, how community members are speaking out against bullying, and any warning signs of suicide and/or depression that parents can look out for in their children.

Teri McDougle says her daughter Kenda was a loving person.

"She had a heart that was as big as the universe, I mean she always tried to help people and she was kind to everyone," Teri McDougle said.

"Very few people as giving and generous and loving as she was," Kenda's stepdad Scott McDougle said. "She was a kid, don't get me wrong she wasn't perfect like none of us, but she was one spectacular individual."

Kenda started pre-school with Sherilyn Peterson at her home daycare then moved to kindergarten at Northwestern School in Mellette. After that, she moved to Aberdeen and became a student at Simmons Elementary School.

She enjoyed doing many things around the Hub City with her friends.

"Forever running to the movies and me being the chauffeur most of the time," Teri McDougle said. "Or SkateAway, she loved it there."

Kenda was involved in Girl Scouts, sang with the Holgate Harmonies and played violin in the school orchestra.

Scott McDougle said Kenda loved the outdoors as well.

"She would hunt and fish with her dad like you wouldn't believe. She loved it so much. She liked whatever color it was as long as it was a camo coat. Whether it's pink and purple, blue and purple, she was definitely into the outdoors," Scott McDougle said.

Kenda would often tell her mom about bullying incidents at school.

"She was 12-years-old, but she was an advocate. She would always come in and tell me that, 'mom, this kid is getting bullied' or 'this kid, I see this on the news, they're getting abused' or 'one of my friends has something going on, mom.' She always wanted to be the protector. She was always standing up for the underdog," McDougle said.

Kenda's death is still under investigation, but her parents believe bullying might have been a factor. Counselors say the problem is an unfortunate reality.

"You know, kids are going to school and social media is everywhere. It's on Snapchat and it's on Facebook and whatever apps that everyone's using, so there's no disconnect you know from it," Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselor Heidie Holmstrom said.

While all kids are different in the way they may show early signs of depression, there are a few things to look out for.

"I would watch for changes in behavior, changes in appetite, sleep patterns, social withdrawal, decreases in school performance, irritability, sadness, things like that," Licensed Professional Counselor Jerry Feist said.

Bullying, a break-up with a significant other, or the loss of an important person can all be triggers for a young person to commit suicide.

It can be a tough topic for parents to talk to their kids about and vice versa, but that open communication line is important.

"If they're coming to you then you're the person they want to talk to. Don't say, 'hey you know let's wait and talk to your counselor about it or your teacher about it or someone else,' just accept that maybe you're not the most comfortable with it," Northern State University Counselor Cory Anderson said. "Say, 'hey, you know, I don't know a whole lot about suicide,' or 'I don't know a whole lot about depression but I do know that I want to help you.'"

Anyone has the ability to become educated on depression, suicide or any other mental health topics and counselors hope this tragedy can be a way to open people's eyes.

Northern State University Counseling Center Program Manager Erin Olson is working to set up training for anyone in the Aberdeen area to attend. These training sessions involve assessing suicidal signs, knowing how to have that conversation with people and when someone should be referred to professional help.

"It's so important to have these resources just so people know what is out there and to reach out. Sometimes, it's hard to talk to the people around you about what's going on with you and to talk with a trained professional and have them talk you through some things," Olson said.

A local student decided to take matters into her own hands and created a Facebook page called "Speak Up" to help out others. Anyone is welcome to join and the link is to the right of the article.

"People don't take this stuff seriously when someone says, 'oh I wanna die.' They kinda just shrug it off. People need to understand that it is serious," Student Keeley Hemmestad said.

If you need to reach out to anyone in the Aberdeen area, counseling services are listed to the right of this article. There's also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (2533). That's available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Brown County will see the 211 Helpline Center available this upcoming February. There's also the Avera St. Luke's 24-hour crisis line at 605-229-1000.

Kenda's services are as followed: Visitation is on Friday, December 8 from 7-8 p.m.; Liturgical Wake Service is at 7:30 p.m. on Friday; Mass of Christian Burial is on Saturday, December 9 at 10 a.m. with visitation available an hour before. All of these services are taking place at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Charitable donations may be made to Safe Harbor in Aberdeen. If you'd like more information about Kenda, her obituary link is at the right of the article.

Some of Kenda's friends have been making tie-dye purple and teal t-shirts and selling them for $20 to help benefit her family as well as educate the public on suicide prevention/awareness. If you're interested in buying a shirt, you can find Jillian Kiefer on Facebook.