The students and parents who gathered Wednesday night at Lewiston Middle School hold up candles in memory of Anie Graham, a 13-year-old girl who took her own life. Staff photo by Derek Davis

LEWISTON — The father of a Lewiston Middle School student who took her life this week says the school and other support services did not do enough to help her.

“We tried so hard, we tried everything. When it got serious, when it got real, no one helped us,” Matt Graham said, his voice breaking with grief as he stood in the driveway of the family’s home Wednesday evening.

Anie Graham, a 13-year-old seventh-grader, died by suicide. Her father and her friends said she was picked on at school and on social media, and her death prompted about 50 students to walk out of Lewiston Middle School in an anti-bullying protest Wednesday morning. More than 200 students, parents and teachers returned to the school Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil, with many students still wearing green T-shirts and face paint in Anie’s honor.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said he was not aware of any report to the school by Anie that she was being bullied. Webster said he spoke Wednesday night with Matt Graham and listened to his input on how to prevent student suicide.

Webster said the Grahams want to see more aggressive intervention if a student expresses the desire to kill himself or herself. They told Webster that a student who expresses a suicidal thought at school should be transported directly to the hospital. They also said the school should urge parents to take their child to the hospital immediately if he or she has mentioned suicide.

Lewiston Middle School students Lillyanna Torres, left, and Felicity Sanborn check their cellphones while wearing matching handwritten T-shirts on Wednesday morning. The pair helped organize a protest for the lack of an official school event to memorialize a seventh-grader who recently committed suicide. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Under current policy, those comments would prompt the school to provide a list of resources to the family and refer them to counseling services. But the superintendent pledged to research the suggestions from Anie’s family.

“The family is dealing with a tragic situation that none of us can imagine,” Webster said.

‘SOCIAL MEDIA HURTS PEOPLE’

Graham spoke briefly and emotionally Wednesday evening about his daughter’s struggle.

He said he and his wife had sought help for Anie at the school and the hospital to no avail. Although both of Anie’s parents have full-time jobs and health insurance, Graham said their insurance coverage couldn’t help them with treatment.

“The school and the hospital and the insurance company all told us they couldn’t help,” he said. “Every system we have in place failed our daughter.”

He wanted people to know his daughter was beautiful and popular, but she was still a victim of bullying.

“Social media hurts people,” Graham said. “Bullying hurts people.”

Students first learned of their classmate’s death Tuesday. Lewiston Middle School Principal Jake Langlais informed them Wednesday morning that Anie’s death was a suicide, and the school observed a moment of silence in her memory. He deferred questions about her experience at school to the Graham family.

Students combine candles they lit during Wednesday night’s vigil for Anie Graham. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Students who joined the walkout described Anie as friendly and bubbly, a frequent host of pool parties and a talented math student. A few remembered going to the movies with her in recent weeks or seeing her in class Monday. Under a gray sky, some students decorated posters with Anie’s name.

“When you think bullying, you think pushing around and harassing, but the words that were said to her were harassing,” said 13-year-old Felicity Sanborn. “I’d rather have all my teeth knocked out than be called some of those names.”

Felicity said she had known Anie since they were in fourth grade. She and 13-year-old Lillyana Torres wore teal T-shirts they made in honor of their friend – Anie’s name was on the front and a message about suicide awareness was on the back. Felicity and Lillyana organized the protest on social media and encouraged other students to wear green in their friend’s memory.

The administration recorded an unexcused absence for the students who joined the protest, but there was no disciplinary action. The group remained on the front steps and lawn for hours during the school day.

“I hope people think about how their disrespectful words affected her, how she felt she was a piece of dust,” Felicity said. “She felt as though she had nothing to live for.”

Lewiston Middle School Principal Jake Langlais tells students they are welcome to leave the protest behind and return to class, suggesting that there would be no repercussions for their protest over the lack of an official vigil for a fellow student. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Lillyana credited the principal with being caring and responsive, but said bullying exists both at the school and on social media. Guidance councilors and other staff should do more to prevent that kind of behavior, she said.

“It’s very effective on kids’ brains and hearts and thought process,” Lillyana said.

NUMBER OF YOUTH SUICIDES RISING

There were 235 reported suicides in Maine in 2015.

Recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Maine’s rate of suicide is consistently higher than the national average and has been trending upward over 15 years. The national rate is 13.41 suicides per 100,000 people, but Maine’s rate is 16.41 per 100,000 residents.

Suicide also is the second-leading cause of death among Maine residents ages 10-25, and the number of suicides among 15- to 24-year-olds in Maine increased from 17 in 2008 to 30 in 2014.

Data from the 2015 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey shows 16 percent of middle school students had considered suicide, and 48 percent of middle schoolers said they had experienced bullying at school.

Extra counseling services have been made available for Lewiston students and staff this week, and the district has mailed all parents in the district a pamphlet on “supporting teens through difficult times” that includes a list of community resources.

Neither Webster nor Langlais said whether an investigation would be conducted into the bullying allegations or Anie’s death. Both said they were worried about the role that social media plays in bullying.

“We need to do more work as a society on student-to-student communication in school and out of school,” Webster said.

Students and parents embrace during the vigil at Lewiston Middle School. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Langlais said he has spoken with Anie’s family and close friends since her death.

Linda Scott, chairman of the Lewiston School Committee, said she hadn’t spoken to members of the committee Wednesday night and she did not want to comment on whether they planned to investigate whether Anie was bullied or whether enough was done to help her. She referred all questions to the superintendent.

Lt. Mike McGonagle, a spokesman for the Lewiston Police Department, said, “At this point, we are looking into all aspects of the case, but there appears to be nothing suspicious.”

The district encourages students to report bullying when it happens, Webster said, and each claim is investigated. Lewiston schools will continue to review their policies to prevent and investigate claims of bullying, the superintendent said.

“I want to commend our staff for their role before and after this tragic event,” he said. “I think their actions have been appropriate, and again, my heart goes out to the family with all they are going through right now.”

Eighth-grader Lillyanna Torres gets a hug from classmate Kadyn Dufour on Wednesday morning outside Lewiston Middle School. Torres helped organize a protest over the lack of an official vigil to memorialize a seventh-grader who died unexpectedly. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The district will have a community meeting at the Green Ladle, a student-run restaurant at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center, on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

TEARFUL AND EMOTIONAL VIGIL

Webster and Langlais attended the vigil outside the school Wednesday night, watching from the periphery. “Right now, we just want all our kids to be safe,” Langlais said. “By all, I mean all. These types of events trigger emotions in everyone, kid or adult.”

Students at the gathering hugged, clutched small candles and released green star-shaped balloons in Anie’s honor. One girl collected notes in a cardboard box for Anie’s family, who did not attend. The chatter of teenage voices quieted for a moment of silence.

As the crowd dispersed, still-flickering candles formed a makeshift memorial next to the school. Even when their flames were extinguished and the sky was dark, a small knot of students and adults remained, talking quietly in the shadows.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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