Carmel parents hope son's suicide leads to changes, saves lives

CARMEL, Ind. -- Patrick McCalley had a smile that could light up a room. He played the saxophone in his high school marching band. He was fascinated by airplanes, and his grandfather who was a World War II veteran. His dream was to enlist in the Air Force.

"He was a wonderful kid to be around, " said Marilyn McCalley, Patrick's mother.

On October 6th, 2016, Marilyn said goodbye to her son before he went off to school like she'd done so many times before.

"I said are you leaving Patrick?" Marilyn said. "He said, 'I love you, mom.' 'I love you too buddy.' He walked out that door like he'd done every day of his life in high school."

But this time would be different.

At school that day, Patrick got into trouble for a message he had sent days before on the social media app Snapchat. The message, showing a noose around the neck of an African-American classmate, had become public. Carmel High School administrators stepped in.

The McCalleys say they were called around 2:30 p.m. to alert them of the situation. At the time, they had no idea an administrator had questioned Patrick and asked him to provide a statement.

Patrick took responsibility for his mistake in writing, calling the SnapChat message "horrible" and hoping the incident would not define him or Carmel.

His parents were troubled they were never in the room, especially since what he was asked to sign sounded more like a legal document -- an affidavit which threatened "penalties for perjury" if his statement wasn't true.

"We should have been called as soon as he had admitted it. We should have been involved," Patrick's mother said.

Patrick drove home; when he arrived, he attempted to take his life.

"I couldn't save him," his father Chris said. "He died later at the hospital."

The hospital returned the rosary found in his right hand.

"This can't happen to another family," said Chris.

It's taken the McCalley's two years to publicly tell  Patrick's story. They are looking to their son's school to make changes in how the district questions students facing punishment, and how parents are included in those discussions.

"I'm a teacher," Marilyn said. "We tell parents all the time what makes schools successful is parent involvement. That doesn't mean parent involvement when all is going great -- that means parent involvement when your child needs you. Patrick was not afforded that."

Another parent, Kerry Brenneman, whose son faced disciplinary action in a separate issue, also wants to see changes.

"If my son or another kid is going to possibly be suspended, that they should have a right to withhold their statement until a parent is present," Brenneman said.

The McCalleys remember Patrick all of the time; especially when they show the quilt made of Patrick's jerseys and the green hoodie he often wore, or when they hear a song by Frank Sinatra or Kanye West. 

Now they want to honor Patrick by making sure kids are with an advocate, a parent or a guardian when being questioned by school administrators.

Carmel Schools superintendent Dr. Michael Beresford, who was not in his position in 2016, has met with the parents in private to discuss Patrick's story.

In Indiana, school discipline is left up to local school districts to handle. State law empowers schools to supervise and discipline students and establish codes of conduct. The law details the rights students and parents have during a suspension or expulsion process.

But in questioning students, the law is silent on whether the questioning should be recorded by video or audio, and whether a parent should be in the room.

Read the state law on student discipline here

"What we would like is cooperation and collaboration,"  Chris McCalley said. "To look at policies at how this was handled so it's changed so it doesn't happen to another family." 

 

Suicide: A leading cause of death in Indiana.
  • According to the Indiana State Department of Health, suicide was the 11th-leading cause of death for Hoosiers from 2011-2015.
  • Suicide was the second leading cause of death among 15- to 34-year-olds, the third-leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds and the fourth-leading cause of death among 35- to 54-year-olds.
  • Here's the latest report from the Indiana State Department of Health issued in March 2017 covering the years 2011-2015: https://www.in.gov/isdh/files/Suicide_Report_2017_final_revised7.10.17.pdf
  • The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is open 24 hours 7 days a week. The number to call 1-800-273-8255

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