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'I want kids to know that they can stand up and say something'

By Norwalk Reflector staff • Oct 5, 2018 at 4:00 PM

Supporters of Anna Hershiser’s anti-bullying campaign will gather at 1 p.m. Saturday at Norwalk High School before traveling to a billboard on South Ohio 61 that has her late son’s picture on it.

Those who join the gathering will participate in a group photo shoot for Caleb. The forecast calls for showers, however Hershiser said it will take place rain or shine.

Hershiser said she is hoping that hundreds wear blue and come out to be a part of the picture that will be taken in front of the anti-bullying billboard. She and her family paid to have it put up after 14-year-old Caleb committed suicide April 2, 2017.

Hershiser then hopes  the picture goes viral and is seen nationally.

The billboard says, “Bullying has to stop.”

Hershiser said there were no red flags visible to her before her son decided to take his own life.

“No, honestly it’s 18 months after he’s passed, and I’m still looking,” she said.

“It was definitely a slap in the face; it’s something I never expected. It seemed like his bullying problems had gotten better,” the mother added. “He always had a smile on his face. As a parent, knowing what he’d gone through at a younger age, I could tell by his posture if he had a bad day or something was wrong. But even now I keep thinking back and I’m still looking for (a red flag). I’ve been beating myself up for 18 months trying to find it. He really put on that mask and hid it very very well.”

Hershiser said Caleb had been bullied for years in Willard City Schools.

In one attack, she said someone broke his glasses. He was pushed into lockers and had food thrown at him, but things appeared to be getting better, or so she thought.

"My guess is that he just had so much pain that he couldn't deal with it anymore," Hershiser said.

Since Caleb’s death, Hershiser has made it her mission to raise awareness and to try to put a stop to the bullying that ended her son’s life.

“I want kids to know that they can stand up and say something; I want them to know that they can talk,” she said.

“It’s OK. I want then to know we’re standing right there with them. I want them to know they should talk to someone. Talk to trusted adult — their favorite teacher, an aunt, uncle, a parent,” Hershiser said. “I want the kids to know parents are not too busy. If you’re in pain, say something.

“I wish that with my son I would have enforced that more. You think that’s something your kids automatically know. I found with my son’s case that they don’t know. He did not come to us and tell us he was having these thoughts how he was feeling. We know there are others out there going through he same things, having the same thoughts.”

Prosecutors determined that nobody would be charged in connection with the death of Caleb Hershiser.

Police had received a tip that bullying might have played a role in the youth’s death. An investigation report released by the Huron County Prosecutor’s Office indicated there was “nothing found during the investigation that would indicate the cause of Caleb’s death was related to any sort of criminal act or provocation such as bullying that would have contributed to Caleb’s death.”

The report, which states no charges will be filed, covers an investigation that includes summaries of interviews with Hershiser’s parents, friends, other Willard students, current and former teachers, administrators and local residents who knew the boy.

“We’ve conducted extensive interviews with anyone who has had contact with him. There is no indication that bullying was involved. … We’ve talked to everyone (who) had contact with him and there was one person in particular mentioned and it doesn’t look like bullying was involved,” former Willard Police Chief Mark Holden told the Reflector following the investigation.

Superintendent Jeff Ritz Superintendent submitted a letter to the editor to the Reflector in which he addressed bullying. He referred to it “as a growing epidemic, one that affects not only children, but parents, teachers and communities.”

“No longer is bullying confined to a schoolyard where children could previously escape the pressure of bullies and retreat to a safe place called home. With the rise of the Internet and social media comes new ways for students to bully others at at any time in any place. Statistics gathered from sources including StopBullying.gov found 35 percent of kids have been threatened online,” Ritz wrote.

Also, the superintendent said Willard schools and the community “have many caring adults who truly are concerned about our students and work together to provide a safe learning environment every day.” He stressed the importance of students and adults “to openly communicate when there is a problem (and) if there is no indication of an issue, it is difficult for the school or community to work toward a solution.”

Hershiser said she hopes Saturday’s event will help.

“If we can help one (person), we’ve done out job,” she said. “I’m not going to stop at one though. I’m going to keep doing this until I’ve reached my last breath.”

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