A high school sophomore in Geneva, Ohio is calling for school authorities to be held responsible after his friend and classmate died of suicide.
On Monday, 16-year-old Hayden Long was found dead at his home, a few days after he was questioned with his friends at a school dance on Saturday for allegedly smelling of marijuana. Long was a student and a quarterback at Geneva High School.
Hayden's friend, Hank Sigel, wrote in an open letter yesterday, "He was directly told that he had ruined his life by our school administrators." Sigel said school authorities and a local police officer took a group of students, including Long and himself, to a room to be questioned after they accused them of smelling like marijuana. What ensued, he alleges, was a disproportionately harsh reprimand. "The students were told they would fail their classes, had ruined their academic careers, and had made the biggest mistake of their life."
Geneva Area City Schools Superintendent Eric Kujala told ABC News that officials are investigating the allegations, but are first focusing on providing counselors to students and staff. "Our focus is on healing. We will look at all issues concerned after we allow our school, students and community a chance to recover and begin the healing process," he said.
Kujala also released a letter yesterday which said, “This is a devastating loss for so many. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and 'we' as a district and community support the family in every way. We sympathize with them for their loss and understand that this is a very difficult time."
Local Sheriff William Johnson told the Star Beacon that police deputies were called to the school, and that students were questioned by an off-duty police officer working as security at the dance, the head football coach, and the high school principal.
Long's mother has released a statement through the school district, ABC News reports, clarifying that the family does not hold the school responsible for their son's death:
The Long family has asked that the district post this message to help eliminate any negative publicity. Emily and Michael in no way blame the school system and are offended that some others are speaking for them. The family of Hayden Long would like to thank the support of the Geneva community, especially the Geneva Area City Schools for their support during this difficult time. We ask that you respect our privacy as we spend quality time with our close family and friends.
Sincerely, Emily Long
Since Sigel's letter went up, a Change.org petition has attracted nearly 5,000 signatures to hold Geneva High School's principals and the police officer allegedly involved in the incident responsible.
"If these principals had used a more mature and professional approach towards disciplining the student, he would most likely be still alive," the petition alleges.
The Geneva Area City School District did not respond to a request for additional comment this morning.