PEEKSKILL, N.Y. -- A heartbroken father tried to turn sorrow into action at a packed board of education meeting in New York after his 10-year-old son took his own life last week.
At an emotional and fiery board of education meeting in Peekskill, Westchester County on Tuesday night, Christian Illescas held up a picture on his phone of his 10-year-old son Lukas to the board he accuses of negligence.
"Look. Look. You didn't have time. Five minutes? I don't know how you can sleep. I don't know how," the father told the board.
Christian said Lukas was a happy, engaging, energetic boy, who loved his family and his life at home.
"He was waking up 5:30 in the morning every day to give me a kiss before I go to work. When I was coming home, he was waiting for me at the station. He loved to swim," Christian said.
But at school this year, Christian said Lukas was relentlessly bullied by one particular child, so badly that his son begged not to have to go.
"We had to call the police one time," the father said. "He said, 'Please, I don't want to go to school, I don't want to go to school.'"
His father said that Lukas was so terrified by the prospect of another day of bullying that last week he died by suicide.
Christian said he had tried to get the school to intercede, but they would not, at least not effectively.
So many in the district said they had similar experiences.
"I was the age of 6 all the way until the 8th grade, I had been bullied terribly," said one student who spoke at the board meeting. "I had been made fun of for my clothes. And I'm sorry Mom for bringing this up, but I have been made fun of for living in a homeless shelter."
Lukas' father just wants change.
"I have nothing to lose; my son is gone, so all I want right now is justice for other kids," Christian said.
The members of board of education did not respond during the meeting.
On June 2, a few days before the board meeting, Dr. David Mauricio, the Superintendent of Peekskill City School District, posted this message on the district's website:
"Dear Peekskill Families and Staff,
No words can express the sadness we all feel at the loss of a young life. The passing of our Hillcrest scholar on May 25 is deeply felt by our school community. Our hearts and our prayers remain with his family/friends. I, and my administrative team, have spent time at Hillcrest Elementary this week to help our students, staff, and families through this difficult period. Clinical resources have been made available for all school community members as they cope with this loss. However, our hearts remain heavy.
The district is aware of numerous social media threads, as well as a news report, alleging that this student took his own life. I believe it is important for me to also respond to allegations of inappropriate behaviors in our schools. As a district, we work closely with our students and families to address inappropriate behaviors. We are carefully reviewing school records, communications, and any other interactions to ensure allegations of misconduct are responded to properly and in a timely manner.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge our community's desire for answers. It is our natural instinct to want to know details. Please remember that this is an active investigation regarding a minor, which limits the amount of information we as a district may disclose to the public. I have been in constant communication with the Peekskill Police Department, and at this time they cannot share any public summary or conclusion regarding this case. For the sake of the family and our school community, I think it is best that we allow this investigation to conclude.
Regardless of lacking an official determination in the cause of his passing, we are still left with the sadness that a child's life was lost. We will continue to wrap around our community as we always do in times of need. As a reminder, support is available for those that may need it. Please reach out to the
contacts below to be directed to resources.
Our thoughts remain with our scholar's family and friends at this difficult time."
If you are experiencing suicidal, substance use or other mental health crises please call or text the new three-digit code at 988. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to 988lifeline.org.