On the 2nd of September 2016 Jacob Henry, a 16 year old, walked into the locker rooms of his high school and killed himself through what appears to be ritual mutilation. Police have ruled it as a suicide though some questions remain. What follows are some excerpts of interviews with staff and students of his school.
Excerpt from interview with Jeremy Smith, Guidance counsellors office, 9.45 A.M on the 24th September 2016
I think a part of me knew, and that’s the worst of it all. I knew and I did nothing. What could I have done though? I’m only one person, I couldn’t have stopped it. It wasn’t just me either, it was everyone. Only a few people actively participated but everyone else just stood by and watched, they let it happen. I’m not a bad person, if I am, so is everyone else in that place. I didn’t do anything. I just kept my head down, if I stepped in I would have been a target too and well, you saw what it did to him. Maybe I should have stepped in, said something, but why didn’t anyone else? Why did no one in charge stop and say “Hang on, this isn’t right?” If anything they were just as bad, if not worse. They passively encouraged it. He got in trouble with everyone else, no matter what happened to him, regardless of who started it, he was always in trouble too.
It wasn’t just that he wasn’t liked, that would have made things a little easier to deal with. You haven’t met him so you don’t know, but there was like an almost instinctual revulsion towards him. I had to sit next to him for a year, it was awful. He gave off a smell, it wasn’t a bad smell, or an unclean smell and there was a smell of fresh soap but underneath that there was something else, and it just smelled wrong. I don’t know how to describe it other than that. It seemed to soak into your clothes, your skin, hell even your books and for the rest of the day you smelled wrong too, like it was a thin layer of filth over you skin. He had this weird voice too, nasally and deep all at once. I think that’s why he never really talked all that much, a lot of people winced when they heard his voice, you couldn’t help it, it just happened. I always felt so bad for him, but I don’t know, it just wasn’t really possible to try and make friends. The best I could do was be nice enough if we ever crossed paths. That sounds awful, I know it does, but you weren’t there, you didn’t feel it. He had this weird way of looking at people too, staring at you like he was peeling back your skin to reveal your insides, looking down into your very soul. You could feel it when he looked at you, a faint shiver went up your back and you just knew. It didn’t matter if there were three hundred people in the room, you would turn and there he would be, sitting, staring at you. Maybe saying this makes me a bad person. I don’t know. I don’t care, it’s the truth and that’s what is important, the truth. Sure the bullying didn’t help but no one made him do it. He did that all by himself.
Excerpt from Interview with Brianna Jones, Guidance Counsellors Office, 1.45pm on the 24th September 2016
I always felt bad for him, ya know? I mean he never did anything to hurt anyone, I tried to be nice to him, I even invited him to eat lunch with my friends a few times. He stopped after the second time though, one of my friends, Brad, made a few jokes about him. Brad could be a dick sometimes, but I know he didn’t really mean anything by it. I don’t think he trusted me, like I think he thought it was some kind of prank or trap or something. It was sad to see. He was obvious when he walked down the halls, all folded in on himself, like he was trying to hide. Anytime there was a sudden noise he always, always flinched and looked around like he expected someone to hit him. I saw it one time and my heart just broke for him. I mean I don’t know what things were like at home but I always assumed they weren’t great either. He wasn’t dirty or anything and he always had food and stuff, but there was just something in the way he moved, the way he was always on edge. I told the guidance counsellor but she brushed me off. I never really liked her, she always tried to be too friendly, almost like she was trying to fit in or get our approval. I don’t know. She was just so fake, and completely useless too as it turned out. I wouldn’t say I blame her, that distinction goes to the assholes who tormented him day in and out, but she could have done something, she could have stepped in. I tried to talk to the principal too, but he didn’t really care. It was awful what happened to him, but I can understand it. After all everyone just kept pushing him and pushing him, eventually something was going to give. I just don’t think anyone expected it to be like that. I don’t know what their end goal was, I don’t even know if they actually had one. Either way he did it and that’s on all of them.
Excerpt from Interview with Rick Johnson, Guidance Counsellors Office, 3.15 P.M. on the 24th September 2016
I guess I was his friend. Like he didn’t really have what you could call friends. We talked sometimes, he overheard me talking about Pokémon once and we talked about it for a little bit. I didn’t particularly like him but I didn’t dislike him either. I didn’t mind it when we had a chat, it felt kind nice, he always seemed to relax a little when we were talking, I knew he was getting bullied, I didn’t really know how badly or anything. I saw him maybe once or twice a week I guess. He never really talked about himself. I didn’t know much about him other than he liked Pokémon. I think he has an older sister though, but I could be wrong. I never really saw anyone out and out bully him. Most of the time it was little things, like he’d be walking down the hall and people would bang into him and yell at him for not moving, or just keep going while he had to pick up his stuff. That kind of thing. I tried to help him once but he pushed me away. I think he was embarrassed or something because I saw that he was crying. I tried to follow him, to try and talk to him but I lost him in the crowd. It was the last time I saw him. I don’t know if he started avoiding me or if we just didn’t bump into each other again. I don’t know. He was a nice enough kid, maybe if he had gone somewhere else things would have been better for him.
Excerpt from Interview with Brody Smith, Guidance Counsellors Office, 10 A.M. on the 25th September 2016
Yeah, no one liked that kid, at all. I never did anything to him of course, but you could see it in the way people looked at him. He just didn’t fit in, but then he never really tried either. He always kept to himself, never really talked to anyone. Like maybe if he made more of an effort things wouldn’t have been so bad for him. I guess we’ll never know now though. Mostly I feel bad for his parents, can you imagine your kid doing that? I didn’t go to the funeral, it felt wrong, I didn’t even know him after all, but I saw them coming out of the church, his mother collapsed outside. I heard she’s in some kind of institution now or something.
Excerpt from Interview with James West, Janitors Office, 11. A.M. on the 25th September 2016
I was the one who found him. Awful, awful thing. I mean I know they said it was suicide but I really don’t know. I don’t know how anyone could do that to themselves. I think it was those assholes who tormented him everyday, it was like a game to them, always hanging around him, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. I told a few people about it, but no one listened. I knew things were bad for him but I didn’t realise how bad. Maybe if I knew I would have made more of an effort for him. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. Seeing him like that. Awful.
Excerpt from Interview with Principle Jack Hayes, Principals Office, 4.15 P.M. on the 23rd September 2016
Yes, I’ve heard of these reports of so called bullying. Nothing could be further from the truth, I dealt with them all fairly and the truth is he was just as often an instigator, if not more so. He would pick fights, follow them around, make snide comments. He would never try to defuse the situation, he would always escalate. There were plenty of times that he could have gone to a teacher, the guidance counsellor or even to me, but he never did. That more than anything shows that he knew he was responsible too. I tried to steer him the right way, tried to get him off the path he was following, but there is only so much you can do. Obviously he was a young man in pain and reacting to that with anger and violence rather than reaching out for help. If he had reached out to someone, maybe, just maybe things would have turned out differently.
Excerpt from Interview with Ben Owens, Guidance Counsellors Office 9 Am. on the 25th September 2016
Ugh. Yeah. Him. He was an asshole. No ones going to say it because he’s dead now, everyone has gone into hero worship mode, but he was always a dick. Sure we got into a few fights, but he was always the one to start them, walking into me, saying stuff under his breath, that kind of stuff. Yeah, it’s sad that he’s dead and everything, I feel bad for his parents, but I’m not going to miss him and I’m not the only one who wont. Maybe that makes me an asshole, but I’m just saying what no one else will.
Of the people that were interviewed, some eighty people in number, only ten of them knew his name, most referering to him as “that kid” or “Jack.” At this point the interviews were stopped and my permission to be on school grounds was rescinded with threat of arrest if I was to return. The small town was not rocked by the death as one would expect, instead it was quietly swept away, few people, if any, seem to know the story of Jacob. Those in the town who are asked react one of two ways with confusion or hostility.
On September 28th 2016, my hotel room was broken into, the perpetrators took nothing, my recordings and laptop were destroyed. I was told that it was unlikely that anyone would ever be caught, however one of the responding officers told me that it would be better for me if I were to leave the small sleepy town. Though they did not come out and say it, the underlying threat of “or else” was clear to me. With my work destroyed and the towns people closing ranks I had no choice but to leave as locals became increasingly hostile. It is still unclear as to what exactly happened the day Jacob walked into that locker room and questions still abound as to whether or not it was a suicide. With his body cremated and the medical records lost during a fire, those questions will likely never be answered.