By Lena Sullivan
The Associated Press
A 14-year-old junior high school student in Utah committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in front of a group of classmates on Thursday, Nov. 29.
Those who knew the victim, identified on Friday, Nov. 30 as David Q. Phan, described him as a boy who was always nice to everyone, but who was often mistreated by his classmates.
Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said the ninth-grader had left Bennion Junior High in the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville with his mother at around 1:30 p.m. after a trip to the principal’s office.
Just before 3 p.m., Phan returned alone to a pedestrian bridge near the school, where he came upon several students who had just gotten out of school for the day. Several parents were also present.
That is when Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said the teen pulled out a handgun and shot himself in the head.
When first responders arrived on the scene, Phan was still alive. The teen was rushed by ambulance to Intermountain Medical Center in critical condition, but died a short while later.
The bridge where the shooting took place is just off school grounds near the southwest corner of the campus.
On Friday, Nov. 30, police revealed that the gun Phan used in the suicide was kept in a locked safe at his home. They do not believe the 14-year-old brought the weapon to the campus.
Horsley said before Phan was let out of school with his mother, he was searched for weapons. The spokesperson did not elaborate what led school officials to search the teen.
“I was just walking. I hear a big sound and I hear everybody yelling, and then I turned around and I saw it and there was a lot of blood,” Ethan Wily told Fox13.
At around 8 p.m. on Thursday, more than 200 people gathered on the bridge, candles in hand, for a vigil. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that they remembered Phan as a kind and friendly soul.
“He was one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever known,” said Hunter Evensen, a fellow ninth-grader. He remembered when the teen had bought him a drink and never expected to be paid back for it.
Evensen and others who attended the vigil on the bridge embraced each other and prayed for Phan before releasing six balloons into the night sky in his honor.
Unified Police detectives are interviewing students who witnessed the shooting, Hoyal said.
Police and school district officials said they don’t yet what led Phan to take his own life, but those who knew the victim said he had endured bullying at the hands of dozens of students.
“They were just mean to him for no reason,” classmate Alicia Earl told ABC 4.
A statement posted on the school district’s Facebook page read in part that Phan had been contacted regularly by a counselor over the past 18 months over bullying concerns, but the teen did not report being mistreated or harassed.
Phan’s classmate Makayla Schmidt pointed out that sometimes bullying is hard to detect, especially when it comes to verbal abuse.
“I heard it, people (talking about him),” she told KSL. “I don’t think people realize how much words can hurt.”
Horsley said the teen had reached out to a counselor last year for personal reasons, but did not complain about being bullied. He added that the school will investigate the allegations.
The school district is providing counselors to talk with students and families in the wake of the death.
In a statement, the Granite School District said that Phan’s suicide appears to be an isolated incident that is not related to any kind of criminal activity. (end)