An Indiana couple is suing a high school two years after their son committed suicide, alleging a two-hour in-house suspension led him to take his own life.
The lawsuit, filed last month in Hamilton County, alleges that Patrick McCalley, a 17-year-old junior at Carmel High School, died on Oct. 6, 2016, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after suffering “extreme and excessive psychological distress” while being questioned by an assistant principal about two racially inappropriate Snapchat messages he sent to another student.
Patrick “remained isolated” in a closed room as Carmel High School assistant principal Toby Steele and Carmel Police Officer Phil Hobson questioned him about the messages. He then wrote a “self-incriminating statement” under the penalty of perjury and was told he was being expelled or suspended from school, the lawsuit claims.
Prior to the incident, Patrick had been an “outstanding student” at the school, where he was a member of the marching band, jazz band and concert band. He also had no prior disciplinary infractions and was preparing for a future in the United States Air Force.
“When Patrick awoke on October 6, 2016, he was a happy, well-adjusted boy and had just received email correspondence from a representative of the United States Air Force and was excited for the future when he left his home for school,” the lawsuit states.
But within minutes of leaving the school after being summoned to meet with Steele, the teen decided he no longer wanted to live.
“Patrick’s father, Christopher McCalley, arrived at the home shortly after Patrick but was too late to prevent Patrick from shooting himself out of the despair caused by Defendants’ actions at school that day,” the lawsuit states. “When Christopher McCalley saw Patrick, he called 911 and tried to stop Patrick’s bleeding. When law enforcement officers responded to his 911 call, Christopher told them this had to be because of whatever just happened to Patrick at school.”
The lawsuit — which names Carmel Clay School Corporation, Carmel High School, the city of Carmel and former district superintendent Nicholas Wahl as defendants, as well as Steele and Hobson — seeks damages for the “loss of love and companionship” of Patrick in addition to medical, burial and legal expenses associated with his death.
District officials, meanwhile, denied the allegations in a statement to the Indianapolis Star, saying the facts of the incident are “very different” from what’s described in the McCalleys’ lawsuit.
“We will follow the legal process to appropriately respond to these accusations,” Carmel Clay Schools told the newspaper. “We are fortunate to have tremendous leadership focused on providing a safe learning environment for all of our students at Carmel Clay Schools.”
Pressed for additional details, district officials said they will “continue to remain respectful of the privacy” of those affected by Patrick’s death.
But administrators apparently followed school policy during the incident, according to the newspaper, citing directives that indicate that a student must meet with an administrator before being suspended and receive a “written or oral” statement of the allegations he or she faces.
The McCalleys, meanwhile, have called for requiring that a parent or counselor be present during such meetings with administrators, a change they think could potentially save lives.
“We can’t do anything to change this with Patrick,” Chris McCalley has told the newspaper. “But if we do nothing and this happens to another family … I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”