An Ohio teenager took his own life after school officials and police “verbally attacked” him for smelling like marijuana when they arrived at their homecoming dance.
Hayden Long, a 16-year-old sophomore quarterback, was found dead Monday at his home in Geneva, and his friend wrote a letter blaming the high school quarterback’s suicide on school administrators and police officers who repeatedly said his life was ruined over the infraction, reported WPMT-TV.
Hank Sigel, who admitted he also faced discipline over the pot accusations, posted the open letter online, where it was shared widely across social media.
He was among six teens, who he described as athletes and honor students, accused of smoking marijuana before the dance and questioned by two Geneva High School administrators and an off-duty police officer.
“I was exposed to some things that I would never want to see again when I was in the room where we were taken,” Siegel said in the letter. “We were questioned without our parents, and they forcibly took my keys and searched my car. When I stood up for myself and asked if they had the right to do this, I was told, ‘It’s cute you think you know your rights.’”
Sheriff William Johnson said Ohio law does not require parents to be present when questioning juveniles, and he pointed out that the school principal and an athletic coach were present.
The sheriff said the teens admitted to smoking marijuana, and some of them had drug paraphernalia on them.
The teen said the students faced a two-week suspension from school, possible criminal charges, suspension from all sports and a loss of drivers’ licenses.
Principal Douglas Wetherholt, Assistant Principal Tony Markijohn and Geneva Police Officer Gonzalez verbally harangued the students, Sigel said — and he said the adults blew the infraction out of proportion to its actual severity.
“He was directly told that he had ruined his life by our school administrators, Sigel said. “The students were told that they would fail their classes, had ruined their academic careers and had made the biggest mistake of their lives. A minor event was turned into a life-changing catastrophe by these negligent and vicious men.”
Sigel called for the administrators to be fired, saying “these are repeat offenders, and have been antagonizing and trying to bring our students down for years.”
The teen’s mother signed off on the letter, first apologizing to Long’s family if their efforts hurt them in any way — but she joined her son’s call for the administrators to be fired.
“The administration needs to accept responsibility for this tragedy,” said Heather Sigel. “Impressionable teenagers should not be treated like hardened criminals.”
Superintendent Eric Kujala called Long’s death “a shock,” and the school canceled its football game Friday and would have counselors on hand for students.
Kujala said there were no plans for a memorial service, saying officials wanted to allow Long’s family to grieve privately.
The superintendent also said a petition calling for Wetherholt and Markijohn’s firing, which has drawn more than 4,500 signatures, complicated the school’s efforts to memorialize Long.
The school released a statement Tuesday saying that Long’s parents “in no way blame the school system and are offended that some others are speaking for them.”
Watch this video report posted online by WEWS-TV: