A San Diego family said a video taken of their son masturbating in a school bathroom went viral and he was bullied so badly over it that he committed suicide. Matthew Burdette’s parents are suing the San Diego Unified School District because they say officials knew their 14-year-old son was being targeted but did nothing to protect him.
Matthew’s aunt, Laura Burdette Mechak, described the teen as happy, popular and active. “I said to my brother first thing, this little boy has a twinkle in his eye. He just loved life,” said Mechak.
“They told me that Matthew had killed himself. I fell on the floor, devastated. I never saw it coming,” said Mechak.
Matthew took his own life during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2013, leaving behind a suicide note for his family that revealed the extent of the harassment he was enduring from classmates at University City High School. “I can’t do school anymore. I have no friends. I don’t want to kill myself but I have no friends,” Matthew’s wrote in his suicide note.
After the teen’s aunt and father brought the letter to University City High School to get some answers, school officials were uncooperative in finding out what had happened to Matthew.
“Kids came forward to help them figure out what was going on,” said Mechak.
According to ABC 10:
They said that student then posted it on Snapchat, Vine and other sites claiming he caught Matthew masturbating.
“It went viral. It went beyond his school. It went to other schools in California. Kids in the neighborhood who didn’t go to Matthew’s school had heard about it and seen the video that was taken of him,” said Mechak.
Allison Worden of Gomez Trial Attorneys represents the family.
“Kids saw this video and began to tease Matthew mercilessly — they teased him, they harassed him. They made his life miserable over a two-week period,” said Mechak.
His family said it was after those two weeks of bullying that Matthew took his life.
His parents went back to University City High School. They said the district knew about the video because they had launched an internal investigation.
The Burdettes said the school would not tell them if the student who had shot the video and posted it on social media outlets was disciplined.
“No one would provide them with answers,” said Worden.
Worden believes the school district failed Matthew on many levels. She said a teacher had kicked the boy out of class for eating sunflower seeds and sent him out with no direction on where to go.
Worden said this left Matthew to wander the halls and end up in the bathroom.
She also said the school district failed to protect Matthew under the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 and the California Safe Place Act.
The Burdettes went to the San Diego Police Department. They said the boy who took the video confessed and was arrested.
The case was forwarded to the District Attorney’s office.
“The Burdettes made contact with the DA and again, after that first call, their questions fell on deaf ears,” said Worden.
The DA would not give Team 10 details because the case involves a juvenile. They said there is a hearing for the matter on July 23.
Burdette’s mother wrote a letter to the School Board asking for answers.
“Within 30 minutes the Board of Education president called them saying he knew nothing of this. He was outraged,” said Mechak.
Kevin Beiser, The Board of Education President, wrote the following email to the Burdettes:
“We discussed at length in closed session and are waiting to hear from the DA. Staff is also going to recommend district policy changes regarding issues like this.”
The Burdettes emailed back asking if the school district took action against the boy who took the video.
“They’ve never heard anything since,” said Mechak.
That’s when the family decided to get Matthew’s story out there. They are hoping for answers, changes and to get through to other kids.
“I don’t have hatred for the kid who took this video. He was a dumb kid who did a dumb thing. But these kids don’t get it. They don’t realize how big the cyber bullying world is,” said Mechak.
The Burdettes have filed a claim against the San Diego Unified School District and have six months to file a lawsuit.
The San Diego Unified School District refused an on-camera interview, but did answer Team 10’s questions by email early Monday afternoon.
1. What disciplinary actions were taken against the student who admitted to police and school officials to taking the video of Matthew Burdette inside the bathroom at UCHS in November of 2013?
District response: Issues regarding student discipline are confidential.
2. Did the school district know about the video circulating on snap chat, vine, and other social media taken of Burdette in the school¹s bathroom before his death?
District response: No.
3. What actions did the school district take following the death of Matthew Burdette? For example, was there a seminar about suicide or bullying for the student body or counselors available after his death?
District response: On Dec. 17, all University City High School students were invited to attend assemblies on the topic of teen suicide. Parents could request that their child not attend the assembly. The school hosted an informational meeting about teen suicide that same night for parents and community members. The information at the assemblies and meeting was general in nature and not about any particular incident.
The district also released this statement mid-afternoon Monday: