In Rowan County, 45 miles north of Charlotte, Daniel Safrit grew up believing he was a bad person. From third grade to sixth grade, his classmates told him so.
They called him “loser” and “gay” and a word he never had heard before. He had to ask his mother what “fag” meant.
Next to the swagger of other boys, Daniel appeared effeminate. He enjoyed gymnastics and cheerleading.
“He became confused,” said his mother, Jamie Safrit. “Everybody put it into his head, and he was trying to figure it out himself. He wrote down in his journal that he was gay. He was ugly. He was a loser.”
Daniel grew so depressed after the start of middle school in 2013, Safrit said, he tried to kill himself in early September. He was hospitalized for a week. When he returned to Erwin Middle School in Salisbury, she said, the bullying resumed.
One day after school Daniel seemed especially upset, Safrit said, but he didn’t confide about what was bothering him. Before he went to bed that night, she remembers his last words to her: Love you.
The next morning, they found Daniel in his bedroom closet. He had hanged himself with a necktie.
The moment from which her 11-year-old son never recovered might seem insignificant. She was told that it happened in health class: A classmate refused to share his sunflower seeds.
You’re too gay, the boy reportedly said to Daniel.
Jamie Safrit said she doesn’t know whether her son was gay but other kids assumed he was and targeted him because of it. She said the school moved Daniel to different classes, away from the bullies, but they found him in the cafeteria and hallways.
School officials wouldn’t discuss Daniel’s death, referring the Observer to a statement released in 2013. In the statement, Rowan-Salisbury Schools offered sympathy and support to his family but said officials could not discuss details of his case and school experience for confidentiality reasons.
“We offered support to Daniel and his family, including referrals for services and follow up conversations,” the statement said. “We are proud of the job our counseling staff did in working with Daniel and raising concerns about his needs. The school staff, including the counseling staff, worked closely with Daniel and are devastated by his loss.
“We never want to minimize any concern about bullying and we will address bullying and mistreatment of our students whenever it occurs. We also will continue to study appropriate policies, training, and other steps we can take to solve this problem.”