But Parti’s size, race, easygoing nature and a speech impediment made him a target for bullies, according to his aunt, Jeanie Workman, and fellow students at Sheffield Middle School.
Workman said Tuesday that Parti, pronounced Par-tay, worried about hurting students because of his size and never retaliated until last Wednesday. Parti, who was black, was suspended for punching a white student on a school bus after Parti said the student called him the N-word.
Around 12:25 a.m. Saturday, the date of his 14th birthday, police said Parti was found hanging in his bedroom in the family home in the 4300 block of Knickerbocker Road in an apparent suicide.
Workman said Parti had endured bullying for years at Lorain Schools, including being punched, tripped and chased home. She said the bullying got so bad in Lorain that his parents had to drive Parti home to protect him.
Parti transferred to Sheffield-Sheffield Lake Schools in 2010 or 2011 to avoid bullying, but Workman said it continued. Workman said Parti’s parents, Jacqueline and Parti Holland, were at the mostly white school or calling school staff three to four times per week since October regarding bullying.
Despite the turmoil, Parti’s friends said he rarely let it get to him until recently.
“It was so hard to figure out if he’s upset or not because he always walked around with a big old smile on his face,” said classmate Jacob Mathews, 14.
Parti regularly attended First Baptist Church and loved to ride BMX bicycles that he bought, repaired and traded. To pay for them, he and his best friend, Dustin Hughes, 13, mowed lawns and landscaped in the spring and summer and shoveled snow in the winter.
Next-door neighbor Keith Jones recalled Parti and Dustin doing jumps off ramps on their bikes. Jones described Parti as “gentle” and “happy-go-lucky” and said he was shocked by Parti’s death.
“You just never know what goes on under the surface with people,” Jones said. “They can be totally fine on the outside and they’re going through a lot of turmoil on the inside that you don’t know about.”
Workman said Parti seemed his normal self on Friday but had been withdrawn in the last couple of weeks because of the bullying. Friends said he was upset because his bullying allegations weren’t taken seriously by school staff because of his size.
The school website said a character education-conflict resolution program is in place and an anti-bullying committee has been formed to reduce bullying.
Will Folger, Sheffield-Sheffield Lake Schools superintendent, said he was unaware of the allegations that Parti was bullied, but said that bullying in the district is immediately addressed.
However, Parti’s friends and their parents disagree.
Michele Lazar, Jacob Mathews’ mother, said Parti told her on Wednesday that he had told teacher Shree Mumford and Assistant Principal Angela Terella that he was being bullied. Lazar said Parti said they didn’t believe him because he was much bigger than the boys he said were picking on him.
“This kid would still be here if the teachers and that staff would’ve stood up and done something,” said Lazar, who spoke at a Sunday candlelight vigil for Parti attended by some 200 people at Ferndale Park. “They judged him upon his race. They judged him upon his height and that he was a big kid. They didn’t judge him upon his feelings (or) his heart.”
Lazar said Jacob has been kicked in the genitals and pushed into lockers and school staff did little about it. John Hughes, Dylan’s father, said Dylan is occasionally bullied because he stutters and the school district doesn’t take bullying seriously. Hughes said he plans to form a group to reduce bullying.
“I’m actually ashamed to say I’m part of this community because of it,” Hughes said about the school district’s handling of Parti. “It’s going to take a community to remedy this situation.”
Workman said she doesn’t want to criticize school staff but hopes Parti’s death will be a catalyst for change.
“Hopefully, we can save one more child,” she said. “There has to be something done in the future.”
Reporter Chelsea Miller contributed to this story. Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.