On Oct. 25, 2011, Len Pauley experienced a parent’s worst nightmare. He found his daughter with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
He buried 15-year-old Hannah Pauley four days later, but his nightmare has continued for six years.
Len shared his story recently with the Sulphur Kiwanis Club, and his gut-wrenching tale of a teenager plagued by bullying never gets easier.
“We never know what people are going through when we say things to them,” Len said. “You just don’t know what anybody is going through in their lives, so who are we to say something to someone that may affect them negatively? We should always try to be positive and supportive no matter what.”
On the outside, Hannah Pauley was a typical teen. She attended sporting events at her local high school. She gathered with friends and enjoyed life … seemingly. But there was something eating at Hannah that drove her to the point of desperation.
“I’ll be perfectly blunt. I had someone call me to tell me my daughter was having sex with the neighbor at 15-years-old. I became livid. I jumped her and I yelled at her and I was furious. I said things to her I regret to this day. It pierces my heart to remember the things I said to her that day before I found out what really happened.
“It was at that time she confided in me that her step-brother had raped her,” Len explained. “She lived with that for a year a before telling me because she was worried about me going through another divorce.
“She also told me she was in love with the neighbor’s son,” Len continued.
Len was concerned that because the young man was of mixed race, his daughter would be ostracized by others. His concerns became reality. According to Len, Hannah became the victim of bullying at school, on social media, and anywhere other teens were present. The pressure of dealing with the rape — which led to Len’s divorce — and the bullying came to an end on that October night.
Len went to dinner in Lake Charles with a friend. Before he left, he invited Hannah to come along and she declined. At some point during dinner, he received a text message from Hannah that said, “I love you.”
As he returned home a few hours later, he entered the house and felt uneasy.
He called out for Hannah.
There was silence.
He found a drawer opened in his bedroom. It happened to be the drawer where he kept his handgun.
“I started panicking. I called out to her again and then I ran up to her room. I saw her,” Len described as his voice cracked. “I saw her on the floor with a gunshot wound. I grabbed her and I begged her not to leave me.
“I will tell you … I would give my own life to spend one more minute with my daughter,” he continued.
Putting Hannah in a cemetery didn’t bury Len’s battle against bullying.
“It didn’t end there. Burying Hannah was the hardest thing I had to do in my life, but it wasn’t over,” he said.
Years later, his younger daughter — 14-years-old at the time, and six years younger than Hannah — went through her own nightmare with bullying. Len received a phone call from Lake Charles Memorial Hospital explaining his daughter had been admitted for attempting suicide. She slit her wrists after being subjected to bullying over her sister’s suicide and rape allegations.
This time, Len didn’t have to bury his daughter. She survived and spent 60 days in a treatment center and he continues to help his daughter heal and move forward with life.
His message to other parents, though, is not one of pulling punches. He’s very blunt when it comes to bullying.
“You don’t know what your children are doing when they aren’t around,” he said. “You don’t know what they’re saying on Snapchat, or on Facebook or on Instagram. At some point, all of our kids are guilty of ridiculing others and talking down to them.
“It’s our responsibility to talk to them and make sure they are treating others with respect and kindness and decency. You just never know if what a kid says to another kid is the last thing they hear before committing suicide,” Pauley said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people. Suicide results in 4,400 deaths per year. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide and almost 7 percent have attempted suicide.
Victims of bullying are between two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to a study by Yale University. Taking it one step farther, girls between the ages of 10 to 14 may be at even higher risk for suicide.
According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of a fear of bullying.
Anyone considering suicide should speak to someone right away or go to an emergency room. You can also call a free suicide hotline, such as 1-800-273-TALK (8255).