'They knew Vylit was being bullied': Grandfather speaks out about 7th grader’s suicide

LYNDEN, Wash. – A Lynden family is devastated after they say their 7th-grade daughter took her own life as a result of bullying.

Her death is sparking a conversation in the community that the girl’s grandfather is leading, called #VoiceforVylit.

“Vylit was such a sweet girl,” said Gary Vander Giessen.

Vylit, said Vander Giessen, was a typical 7th grader, spunky, sassy and full of life.

“She loved sushi and chocolate and going to movies with papa and nana.”

The young girl took her own life last Thursday, after struggling with relentless bullying, said Vander Giessen.

“She had said that there had been an issue with a girl at school and that she was very afraid,” said Vander Giessen. “When we tried to get information, she just panicked and clammed up.”

Vander Giessen said he had no idea the extent of his granddaughter’s problem. He didn’t know kids were calling her worthless, or telling her to “go kill herself.”

“She said, ‘Don’t tell anybody, don’t tell anybody, it will be worse for me,’” he said.

Vander Giessen said he knows what that’s like -- he was bullied in school 40 years ago.

“If you do tell anyone that you’re being bullied it’s even worse.”

Vander Giessen said it did not stop her parents from working with the school district to find a solution to the bullying. He said they met on several occasions.

“Her parents have been contacted several times, gone to the school district several times, they knew Vylit was being bullied, they knew that bullying was going on,” he said.

Due to privacy laws, the Lynden School District superintendent, Jim Frey, said he could not comment about Vylit Vander Giessen, if he knew about Vylit being bullied, or if school officials met with her parents. He did say the school district is investigating claims of bullying in the wake of Vylit’s death.

“We have reports of bullying and we are going to investigate and follow up every report that we have,” said Frey.

All school districts in Washington state are required to have anti-bullying protections in place. Gary Vander Giessen said he can’t point to any local school district with a proven solution.

“The school districts don’t have any claws anymore, any teeth, they can’t do anything expect for talk,” he said. “The kids at the bottom getting picked on are helpless, they have no hope and they know it.”

The Lynden School District will start with mediation to resolve bullying issues, but will suspend students if the behavior is warranted, said Frey.

The school district is holding a community meeting on March 22, regarding Vylit’s death and how to prevent another.

“We want to take a look at the practices we currently have in place and if there’s some other things we should be doing and that needs to be a partnership with our community and parents as well,” said Frey. “Our intent is to prevent this from ever happening again.”

So far, no police reports have been filed against any particular students in Vylit’s case. Vander Giessen said in cases like this, students at fault need to be held accountable, parents and districts.

“I think that there needs to be some accountability with parents,” said Vander Giessen. “We need to find a solution. It needs to be addressed, not just here, but our nation.”

Vander Giessen said he knows his family is facing an uphill battle, but says he won’t stop fighting for Vylit.

“I am hoping that we can change this, somehow we can change this so it never happens again.”

A Facebook page has been set up by Van Giessen family members called “Voice for Vylit Community Commitment.” The page said it is committed to “building a community commitment in honor of Vylit.” They are hoping to find and implement new strategies against bullying in school by partnering among the school district, community, students and parents.