(Detroit, MI) - Peering through the keyhole of a locked door in her family's home, a 14-year-old girl saw the unthinkable: her 7-year-old brother hanging from a bunk bed with a belt around his neck, a police report says.
The girl alerted her mother and called 911. The mother and a neighbor forced their way into the room, took the boy down, and called 911, too.
The 7-year-old, whom the Detroit Free Press is not naming, had been depressed about being bullied by other kids at school and in his neighborhood, and about his parents' recent separation, the boy's mother told police, according to the report.
"It's just a tragedy on so many levels," Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said Thursday, calling the situation "unfathomable."
He said the department is investigating the child's death, but as of Thursday afternoon, it appeared the situation is "exactly as presented" - a suicide.
Autopsy results were pending late Thursday, according to the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office.
Godbee said he was told that the child had expressed a desire to harm himself. The mother also told police that her family's pastor was counseling her son to help him cope.
The child's loved ones, speaking over the phone and in person, said they did not want to comment when reached Thursday.
The issue of bullying and its consequences has been a hot topic across the country for the past few years, spawning discussion, books, documentaries and even cartoons on the issue. Wednesday's incident has some questioning how a child so young could commit such an act.
Experts say children that young may not understand the finality of death, but they need to be taken seriously when signs of depression arise.
"Any time a child makes a threat or engages in talking about suicide, it should always be taken seriously," said Polly Gipson, a child psychologist at the University of Michigan and at U-M's Center for the Child and the Family.
"We shouldn't think that because a child is a child, there's no way (he or she) can act on those behaviors."
In 2010, a medical examiner ruled the death of a 6-year-old girl in Oregon a suicide, according to news reports, which say the girl hung herself after her mother sent her to her room.
Of the 36,951 suicides recorded in the U.S. in 2009 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 265 involved children ages 5 to 14.
A lot was troubling boy
The boy's mother told police she forced her way into the room where her son was by removing the door knob, grabbed her son and held him up while a neighbor removed the belt from around his neck, a report says.
The boy's mother told police she had last seen her son alive at 4 p.m. Wednesday when she left to go talk to the family's pastor about the child's depression, according to the report.
The mother told police that her son "had been depressed due to her recent separation from his father; the fact that he had been bullied continuously by the children at school, in addition to constant teasing he had endured because he was the only boy in the home of eight females," a report says.
Neighbor Harold Pleasant could hardly believe what had happened. He said that on Tuesday, he helped the child's mother start her van. She told him that the boy had a 1 p.m. doctor's appointment.
While working on the van, Pleasant asked the boy how he was doing in school.
"I'm doing fine," Pleasant, 62, said the boy told him.
On Wednesday afternoon, Pleasant was watching ESPN in his living room when his wife and daughter, who were in an upstairs bedroom, came down. His wife said: "Do you hear all that screaming? Somebody's screaming like they're losing their mind."
They went outside and looked toward the house where the boy's older sister was in the yard wailing. He went to find out what was wrong.
Pleasant said the boy's sister said: "I found my brother hanging from the bed."
Pleasant said he wants to remember the boy riding his bicycle, laughing and playing. But he struggles with the boy's death.
"I'm going to be devastated about this if God don't take it away from me because I can't think of nothing else," he said. "I don't know how a kid that age can come to the conclusion to kill himself."
Adults try to help
The boy's death, said to be in part the result of bullying, has again thrust into light the tragic results such teasing can bring.
In December, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed anti-bullying legislation. The city approved an ordinance last fall that makes it a misdemeanor to bully children in person or online.
Detroit City Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins, who sponsored the ordinance, said the boy's apparent suicide shows the need for a stronger response to such mistreatment.
"For a 7-year-old to lose his life in any form is heartbreaking. But to imagine a child that young, who is so sad, that believes his only option is to do this? Heartbreaking is not a strong enough word," she said.
She said the goal of her ordinance is to intervene and try to rehabilitate kids who bully peers.
Parents also can be held responsible for their children's misbehavior under the ordinance, Jenkins said.
Jenkins said she doesn't know whether anyone has been given misdemeanors as a result of this ordinance. She said she's going to work to make sure there's broader awareness of the city's law.
"One of the most important things we can do is to make a safe, livable city for our children," she said. "We have to teach children that bullying is not OK."
Contributing: Melanie D. Scott, Chastity Pratt Dawsey and Georgea Kovanis, Detroit Free Press