Jackson Grubb built a clubhouse in his backyard in West Virginia, hoping it might help him make new friends, his grandmother said.
Family members said the 9-year-old - the boy they affectionately called "Action Jackson" - had been bullied by some of his peers at school and around their trailer park in Soak Creek. But he rarely shied away from confrontation, they said, often responding to his tormentors with a clever comeback - and sometimes throwing a punch, according to NBC affiliate WVVA.
Recently, though, the third-grader had started to pull away, relatives said, and they were growing increasingly concerned.
"I was spending time with him, trying to get it out of him," Betsy Baber, Jackson's grandmother and guardian, told WVVA. "But Jack's the type that holds things in, and I couldn't get to him."
Last Saturday afternoon, one of Jackson's sisters discovered him dead when she went into his room to show off a frog she had captured for him.
"Please stop bullying," one sister wrote hours later on Facebook. "I just lost my brother jackson ... "
Raleigh County Sheriff's deputies responded to a call about the death September 10 in Soak Creek, about 65 miles from the capital, Charleston, according to a police statement.
He had a passion for building things and was very proud of the clubhouse he built in his backyard.
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Authorities said they did not suspect foul play and that the fatal injuries appeared to be self-inflicted, though the death is still under investigation. The state medical examiner's office said Friday it could not release any information to the public.
Funeral services are scheduled for September 17, according to the boy's obituary.
"He was a student at Sophia Soak Creek Elementary School and played basketball for the Hawks and a member of the Sophia First Baptist Church where he was involved with the Awanas," the obituary said. "He loved cats and being outdoors where he liked to fish. He had a passion for building things and was very proud of the clubhouse he built in his backyard."
Now, Jackson's clubhouse sits empty, painted bright red the day after his death by relatives who said they wanted to finish the job for a boy who died too soon.
"They were bullying him and they were picking on him," Baber told MetroNews in Charleston. "They were saying things to him. They were touching him. And that led my grandson to do the things that he did."
Jackson's uncle Shane Baber said the boy had recently asked to spend the night at his house. "I do believe bullying did play a part in it, but I don't believe it was the primary cause," he told MetroNews. "I want to believe that this boy went in there to try to scare his grandmother and have her find him. Not find him dead but find him struggling because I believe he was struggling inside."
Last year in West Virginia, 1,849 middle schoolers and 1,608 high schoolers surveyed said they had been bullied on campus; 1,851 middle schoolers and 1,604 high schoolers said they were victims of electronic bullying, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the federal government cautions against placing sole blame on bullying for youth suicides.
"The relationship between bullying and suicide is complex," according to StopBullying.gov, a website managed by the Department of Health and Human Services. "Many media reports oversimplify this relationship, insinuating or directly stating that bullying can cause suicide. The facts tell a different story. In particular, it is not accurate and potentially dangerous to present bullying as the 'cause' or 'reason' for a suicide, or to suggest that suicide is a natural response to bullying."
Forty-nine states have anti-bullying legislation, according to the website.
Where to get help:
Lifeline - 0800 543 354
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Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
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0800 WHATSUP (0800 9428 787), Open between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.
Healthline - 0800 611 116
• For more information about support and services available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812 during office hours or email email@example.com